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Law amendment will rid sham cooperatives from South Africa's textile sector

8 May, 2019Taking advantage of loopholes in the laws governing cooperatives, employers in the garment and textile sector have been turning their factories into fake cooperatives to avoid paying decent wages and benefits.

The previous law treated workers in cooperatives as self-employed and exempt from paying minimum wages and conforming to labour standards. However, this will change with the Regulations for the Cooperative Amendment Act (2013) which came into effect on 1 April.

According to the new regulations, cooperatives must comply with labour laws and demonstrate their protection of members’ interests – a requirement that will make it difficult for false coops to exist.

“In the clothing industry alone, an estimated 15,000 workers are abused by such cooperatives that are exploiting workers. They are established through threats by factory owners to retrench workers unless the workers become members of the cooperative, which remains under the control of the factory owner who decides on working hours and conditions of work.

"If workers raise concerns about anything they are disciplined and fired on the spot,” says Andre Kriel, general secretary of IndustriALL affiliate Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU).

Paule-France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa said it is commendable when legal gaps that allow worker exploitation are closed.

“It is important for laws to continue strengthening workers’ rights to living wages and decent working conditions. Allowing environments where workers’ rights are trampled upon with impunity is unacceptable.”

Garment factories in Isithebe, in the KwaZulu-Natal province, are infamous for using bogus cooperatives and paying low wages, and have been accused of human rights abuses including human trafficking. In February, 100 undocumented workers from Lesotho and Eswatini were found living in squalid conditions at textile factories in New Castle during a provincial government exercise to check business compliance with regulations. The workers lived in a small unventilated room at the factories which were built with high walls to conceal the shocking living conditions.