IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU) and the National Union of Leather and Allied Workers, who organize the 10,000-plus workers in the sector, called for the national strike to demand living wages.
Instead of engaging with the unions, some employers are resorting to intimidation which the unions have rejected as “illegal, provocative and not conducive to the promotion of sound industrial relations”. This came after Allie Kramer, a chargehand at Bagshaw Footwear factory in Port Elizabeth, fired live ammunition at close range to where the striking workers were gathered. The unions have since called for his suspension and sanction thorough disciplinary action for putting the lives of workers in “serious danger”.
Christina Hajagos-Clausen, IndustriALL director for the textile and garment industry said:
“We support the workers’ demands for living wages and for employers to consider the increasing cost of living that is eroding workers incomes. Labour peace and social dialogue will not be possible if the employer opts for intimidation. We strongly condemn the use of guns to intimidate workers.”
Clothing, textile, footwear and leather are a labour absorbing sector which employs more workers than any other manufacturing sector in South Africa. According to SACTWU, the sector makes an important contribution by reducing unemployment and poverty as well as providing jobs mainly to women who make up about 82 per cent of the workforce. The women are employed especially in small towns where there are fewer jobs thus promoting gender equity. Therefore, living wages will make a difference to workers and their families.
Upskilling and further training of workers is important for the sector. However, SACTWU, says the sector faces threats from customs fraud in which duty for imported goods is avoided and evaded when goods are imported through a third country among other illegal schemes sometimes even with the involvement of government officials. The goods are then smuggled into the country and sold at low cost undercutting local factories and threatening jobs.
The sector also suffered from global competition which has seen local production being displaced by imports. However, the government-supported Clothing and Textile Competitive Programme boosted the sector and brought some stability.