PRESS RELEASE: 18 SEPTEMBER 2009
SACTWU press statement prepared for a press conference to be held at Bolton Hall, Durban on Friday 18 September 2009:
Thousands of clothing workers are paid below the legal minimum rate.
Ladies and gentleman of the media, let me welcome you this press conference.
My name is Chris Gina. I am the National Organising Secretary of SACTWU.
Since Tuesday this week, 55 000 clothing workers have been on strike throughout the country. The strike is in support of the demand of clothing workers for a decent wage increase. This press conference will not specifically deal with the current state of the strike as we are still collecting a national mandate from these 55 000 workers in response to the last revised wage offer of the employers. A formal announcement about our final response is expected to be made by the union’s Head Office in this regard, either later this afternoon or tomorrow.
Over the last few days, SACTWU has continued to emphasise that our wage demands are reasonable, in particular if one considers that clothing workers are the lowest paid workers in the whole of the manufacturing industry in South Africa.
Despite this fact, this strike has exposed that there are still thousands of clothing workers who are being paid below the legal minimum wage rate.
We have called this press conference to explain to you some of the details of these instances of gross underpayment. Most work in factories which supply some of South Africa’s leading retailers.
Currently, conditions of employment in the clothing industry is governed by a main agreement which has been negotiated between the union and clothing employers. This agreement has been gazetted and extended by the Minister of Labour, to legally cover all clothing workers and all clothing companies throughout the country.
This main agreement sets various minimum wage levels for different parts of the country. For the purpose of this press conference, we focus specifically on three areas: Isithebe, Botshabelo, QwaQwa.
Currenly, there are about 10 000 clothing workers on the legal wage strike in these areas combined.
The benchmark wage rate in the industry is the machinist’s job category. The legal wage for a qualified machinist in these areas is currently R399 per week. The legal minimum wage for a machinist is R326 per week.
Our wage strike has exposed the following:
In Botshabelo, based on a survey of 19 factories jointly employing almost 2 000 workers, the average actual wage paid to a machinist is R241 per week. The lowest actual wage paid in this area is R126 per week. The highest actual wage paid is R380 per week. Of the 19 factories surveyed, only 2 factories pay more than R300 per week,11 factories pay a machinist less than R200 per week, and 6 pay between R200 and R300 per week.
The story is the same in Isithebe and QwaQwa:
In Isithebe, based on a survey of 22 factories jointly employing about 2 100 workers, the average actual wage paid to a machinist is R268 per week. The lowest actual wage paid to a machinist in this area is R150 per week.
In QwaQwa, based on a survey of 66 factories jointly employing just over 6 000 workers and having regard for the fact that the minimum wage for a qualified machinist is R399 per week it was found that;
- 6 factories were paying on average less than R130 per week;
- 43 Factories were paying on average less than R200 per week;
- The balance of 17 factories were paying between R200 and R350 per week.
- Only one factory was paying the minimum wage.
This is a very sad story. More than 80% of he workers which receive these poverty wages are women, many of them single mothers and almost all of the supporting between 5 and 8 dependants. They work and live in areas which are amongst the poorest in the country and ravaged by some of the highest levels of HIV/Aids in the country.
Even more sadly, most garments produced by these factories were either direct or indirect orders through design houses from large retailers such as Pep Stores, Jet Stores Mr Price, Edgars and Woolworths.
Both the trade union and the clothing employer associations have brought this problem to the attention of the retailers many times before. We have pleaded with them to source ethically, but with very little success. No serious corrective action have been taken by them and simply a denial that they are sourcing from these factories. The employers at these factories say that they are not able to pay more because retailers are not prepared to pay them more.
SACTWU is deeply concerned about this level of exploitation of clothing workers. It shows complete disrespect for our nations agreed program to promote decent work.
We call on clothing employers, retailers and government to take steps to correct this shocking insult to the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable.
Presented at the Durban Press Conference on 18 September 2009 by Chris Gina, SACTWU National Organising Secretary
Andre Kriel can be contacted on 021 4474570 and Chris Gina on 031 3011 351.
Alternatively, kindly contact Wayne van der Rheede, the Sactwu Deputy General Secretary on 0828007143 or Fachmy Abrahams, Co-ordinator in the Office of the General Secretary, on 073 3067605