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Union settles tough wage negotiations in the garment sector in South Africa

18 December, 2020After four months of negotiations, IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU), settled a wage agreement in the garment industry on 8 December.

Negotiations were conducted on virtual platforms and concluded after the union had declared a dispute. Several conciliation meetings were held to resolve the stalemate.

Over 70,000 workers will benefit from the collective agreement which will increase wages above inflation and increase bonus payments.

Most of SACTWU’s members are in the garment sector and the union also organizes in textiles, leather, and shoe sectors, as well as other industries in the value chain. According to the government, these sectors contribute about 2.5 per cent of South African manufacturing and employ mostly women.

The union says this year’s negotiations in the National Bargaining Council for the Clothing Manufacturing Industry were tough because of disruptions caused by the pandemic, including factory and retail shop closures, retrenchments, and reduced working time for some workers. Other employers even wanted to change permanent contracts to temporary ones and to freeze wages – the union fiercely resisted these proposals.

SACTWU has carried out a living wage campaign for many years and the campaign did not stop because of Covid-19. However, because of the Covid-19 restrictions, the campaign continued through social media and online platforms.

In March, SACTWU concluded a ground-breaking national collective agreement in the textile sector to ensure payment of full wages during the lockdown.

Andre Kriel, SACTWU general secretary said:

“Employer wage freeze proposals due to the Covid-19 pandemic is not an option at all. We are determined to always and without fear or favour, pursue our members’ living wage demands. We are pleased that a mutually satisfactory settlement has now been struck in the clothing industry under extremely difficult economic conditions.”

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

“Covid-19 has caused havoc in the garment sector globally and we applaud SACTWU for continuing to fight for living wages under these harsh conditions. We need to continue to stress that the pandemic should not be used as an excuse by employers not to pay living wages.”

The employer associations that signed the agreement are the Apparel & Textile Association of South Africa (ATASA), South African Apparel Association (SAAA) and the Transvaal Clothing Manufacturers Association (TCMA).

Photo: SACTWU members during a nationwide protest in 2017.