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More verbal & visual support needed for battle of sewing machines
Nov '10
There are indications that some departments and officials within government are concerned about the way the union and the bargaining council is addressing the current battle of the sewing machines. Whilst a determined few Chinese-South African clothing employers battle for the sustainability of South Africa's clothing sector the rest of the clothing and even the textile sector remains silent and complicit.

Alex Liu, Chairperson of the Newcastle Chinese Chamber of Commerce said in a telephonic interview with The ReDress Consultancy, that he was disappointed that the clothing union (Sactwu) had not fully acknowledge their goodwill act of implementing their new wage structures.

“This action by the concerned clothing companies in Newcastle demonstrates our willingness to find amicable solutions to the current situation the clothing industry finds itself in and that we are acting now and not waiting for December when hopefully a solution to the crisis will be found,” said Liu.

The industry cannot maintain itself at the current agreed wage structures, said Liu and we need the union and the bargaining council to “realize this.” What we are suggesting is a wage structure that will provide space for “small business to grow and to provide productivity output incentives.“ Liu said that the clothing companies in Newcastle were able to provide quality products and reliable turn around. However, it is the wage structure of this sector that undermines its capabilities.

Both the bargaining council and the union argue that non-compliant companies create unfair competition against those companies that are compliant. We need to excavate what this really means and so far the union, bargaining council or even the complaint companies can provide no statistical evidence to back this stance.

Commentary from industry insiders say that that the bargaining council and the union are very quick to enforce regulations, however, when it comes to clothing employers asking either the union or bargaining council to investigate labour issues on their behalf they are met with numerous gate keeping tactics. The sentiment by employers is that the relationship with the union and the bargaining council is one sided. “This is a two-way street,” said one employer

The current impasse within the industry has filtered down to the offices of Pravin Gordhan. Two paragraphs imbedded in an article, (Pravin's social contract, M&G, October 29-November 4, 2010), demonstrates that government is conflicted as to how they are to deal with the clothing wage debate. The article states:

“His officials speak privately about the pressures on Chinese clothing factories in KwaZulu-Natal as a crucial example on which to base a rethink of labour regulations. Workers angrily insisted that their employers be allowed to continue paying below sectorial minimimums rather than lose their jobs. Calls for wage restraint and greater flexibility in collective bargaining agreements … remain central to treasury thinking.”

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