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South Africa: Clothing Bosses Feel Hemmed In

Published date:
Monday, 19 September 2005

A Durban denim-clothing manufacturer is among the first to have a writ of execution issued against it as a result of rulings made in favour of the industry bargaining council by the South African Labour Court.

Hein van der Walt, the director of the Confederation of Employers of Southern Africa (Cofesa), says there are another 877 manufacturers who are to have writs issued against them and, if they are forced to close, job losses could be upward of 24 000.

The Labour Court has issued a writ of execution against Durban business Poodle Clothing and Manufacturing to attach movable assets to the value of R6 500, a fine for the failure to register with the National Bargaining Council for the Clothing Manufacturing Industry.

Fazal Omar, the owner of Poodle Clothing, says the bargaining council has damaged the clothing industry and that employers and employees alike have become disillusioned with the council.

"We did not register with the bargaining council when it changed from the industrial council because our employees were unhappy with having to pay money to the council without seeing any benefits," says Omar.

Omar says with the rise in cheap imports from China the clothing industry has been hit hard. He says he used to employ 120 staff, which he has had to reduce to 80.

"The prices that the Chinese goods are sold for are equivalent to the price of our fabric, so we can't even think of competing with them.

"I could employ up to 150 people. I have the machinery and the potential for it, but the climate doesn't warrant it," says Omar.

He says his current 80 employees could lose their jobs if he is forced to close. "If we have to close down in two years then that's what will happen," he says.

"We can't afford a slice of bread on our table, how can we be expected to put a slice on their [the bargaining council] table."

Van der Walt says Cofesa has requested that President Thabo Mbeki declare a moratorium on these prosecutions, to prevent further job losses in the -industry.

"It's difficult times; we are fighting the Chinese and now the bargaining council is fighting us as well," says Van der Walt.

Van der Walt says there are provisions for businesses to apply for exemptions from the bargaining council agreements, but very few are ever issued and reasons are never supplied for a failed exemption application.

However, the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers' Union deputy general secretary, André Kriel, disputes this claim. He says there have been hundreds of exemptions issued and that if a company meets the criteria it will be granted an exemption.

"The exemption rules require that reasons for the refusal of an exemption must be provided," says Kriel, adding, "I would be very surprise if they are not."

Kriel says that no manufacturer is being forced to shut down, that the choice ultimately lay with the employer.

"It is in none of our interests to cause job losses, but that is a threat that manufacturers make. They say allow us to disobey the law or we'll shut down," says Kriel.

The wage rates in the clothing industry are the lowest of all manufacturing sectors in the country.

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