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South African textile union wins full pay guarantee during coronavirus lockdown

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26 March, 2020IndustriALL Global Union affiliate the South African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU) has reached an agreement to guarantee six weeks of full pay for 80,000 workers as the country goes into lockdown.

The agreement comes as South Africa enters a strict three week coronavirus lockdown at midnight tonight. All non-essential businesses, including clothing and textile factories, will shut. People will be confined to their homes except under strictly controlled circumstances.

SACTWU brokered South Africa's first Covid-19 lockdown national collective agreement with the National Bargaining Council for the Clothing Manufacturing Industry late Tuesday afternoon. The unique agreement ensures workers will continue to be paid their full salary for the next six weeks.

Speaking to television news in South Africa, SACTWU general secretary Andre Kriel said:

“We can’t run to government for everything. We must look at our own resources. It is our duty to rise to the call of the nation and combat Covid-19.

“So we said, let’s look at the institutions that exist in our industry and smooth some of the administrative problems.”

The agreement brings together different labour market institutions in an innovative, problem-solving attempt to ensure that workers don’t suffer loss of earnings.

Workers and employers in South Africa pay into an Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) that pays between 20 and 60 per cent of a workers’ salary if they lose their job. Usually, workers have to apply individually for UIF payments at department of labour offices. The lockdown means that there is likely to be a huge backlog.

The agreement will see a collective claim made on behalf of workers in the sector. The funds due to them will be transferred to a bank account managed by the bargaining council. From there, funds will be transferred to companies and topped up by employers so that workers receive 100 per cent of their salaries. It will then be integrated into company payroll systems and paid out directly to workers.

In a press release, the union said:

“We are conscious that it might not be a perfect agreement, but are determined to give it our best shot.

“We specifically want to thank workers and employers of our brave industry for their willingness to mandate their leadership to take the necessary patriotic risks to conclude what we hope is a pioneering centralized bargaining agreement that will be a small contribution to our country's national effort to decisively defeat the spread of Covid-19.”

IndustriALL sector director Christina Hajagos-Clausen said:

“In this unprecedented period, the landmark agreement reached in South Africa demonstrates that trade unions and industry can come together to find ways to support garment workers and to also ensure the viability of the industry. SACTWU has once again demonstrated that industry wide agreements are vital to the textile and garment sector.”

The agreement also establishes a rapid response task team which will manage practical issues. SACWTU has taken a proactive stance on confronting coronavirus, starting a workers’ education programme several weeks ago.