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Union says Covid-19 opportunism is behind wage disputes in South Africa

16 September, 2020Textile and garment manufacturers want to use the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to reduce wages and benefits of over 75,000 workers, but the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU) is standing firm against the push back in the wage negotiations.

IndustriALL affiliate SACTWU says some employers are proposing to reduce wages by 20 per cent and to pay less towards pension funds. In addition, the employers do not want to pay annual bonuses and shift allowances.

If implemented, the employer proposals will reverse the gains of SACTWU’s living wage campaign. In March, SACTWU successfully negotiated a deal in which workers received full-pay during the early days of the country’s lockdown.
To defend the gains, SACTWU has declared a wage dispute in the textile and garment sectors. The sectors include workers employed in the manufacturing of non-woven goods such as nappies and bedding, woven goods like textile fabrics, handbags and leather products, manufactured fibre, industrial textiles, and the laundry sector that caters for hospitals and hotels. In the home textiles sector, a settlement has been reached.
The declaration of the dispute comes after three months of failed negotiations with employer associations under the National Bargaining Council for the Clothing Manufacturing Industry. The employers’ associations that were involved in the negotiations include the South African Apparel Association, Apparel and Textile Association of South Africa, Transvaal Clothing Manufacturing Association, Eastern Province Clothing Manufacturing Association, and the South African Clothing Manufacturers Association. SACTWU is also involved in plant-based bargaining where disputes have been declared.

Andre Kriel, SACTWU general secretary, says:

“While we acknowledge that the lockdown has been difficult for our industry, we will not just sit by and meekly accept these brutal employer attacks on our members’ standard of living. We are determined not to allow workers’ decades-long and hard-won conditions of employment and gains to be eradicated by employers who are hell-bent on opportunistically using the Covid-19 crisis to rob our members of what is rightfully theirs.”

Due to Covid-19, negotiations took place virtually. According to SACTWU, the disputes will now go for compulsory conciliation processes.

Christina Hajagos-Clausen, IndustriALL director for the textile and garment industry, says:

“Unions must stand firm against the push backs from employers. Jobs, wages, and benefits must be protected and not sacrificed.”