MORE than 10000 clothing and textile workers could lose their jobs as employers and the South African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (Sactwu) blame each other for a breakdown over wage agreements and the enforcement of previous agreements.
Last year, Sactwu signed an agreement with the Apparel Manufacturers of SA (Amsa) with the ultimate aim of helping the industry, which has shed more than 20000 jobs over the past five years to its current level of 57000.
The government, particularly Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies and Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel, hailed the agreement as an example of what could be done to arrest the country’s high unemployment levels.
The one-year substantive agreement, allowing for a 30% drop in wages for new entrants in the sector, expires next month.
Amsa has given Sactwu notice that the agreement will end, which means that workers employed on the 30% lower wage must automatically receive a wage increase from September 1.
Amsa executive director Johann Baard accused Sactwu of dragging its heels in implementing the agreement as it had not prompted the National Textile Bargaining Council to issue the writs against non- Amsa companies that were paying wages below the agreed levels.
"The union has dragged its heels over the issue of the writs because they feel that if this is done then many of their members will lose their jobs at these non-compliant companies,” Baard said.
He said the compliant companies were now trading at a disadvantage to their competitors and they did not see the value of signing an agreement if it was not enforced properly.
"If this carries on my members will have to start laying off staff, as many as 12000,” he said.
Sactwu general secretary Andre Kriel laid the blame at Amsa’s door, however, saying the employers had cancelled a bargaining council meeting in May where the issue of the writs should have been discussed.
"So far, we have not received any update on the issue. We are firmly of the opinion that the writs should be issued but Amsa has not discussed the issue with us,” he said.
Kriel said Amsa had also not come back to the union about dates for negotiating a new substantive agreement even though Sactwu had suggested six dates.
He estimated there could be as many as 10000 workers who could be affected should Amsa members decide to retrench.
Kriel warned the union would not agree to any cut in wages again and while strike action was neither a priority nor an objective of its negotiations with Amsa, it would be considered if negotiations did not happen soon.
Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman Michael Bagraim, said the non-enforcement of the writs and the inability to agree to minimum wages showed the bargaining council had become irrelevant.
"Unless the bargaining council’s agreements can be properly enforced, it is of no consequence. Maybe, then, the sector should find solutions such as in the hotel and restaurant sector, where the labour minister makes a determination on minimum wages,” he said.