Human And Labour Rights Violations Exposed Print
Monday, 03 October 2011 10:17

PRESS RELEASE:

This past week many clothing factories in Newcastle were exposed for seriously violating workers’ human and labour rights.

The findings arose from raids on twelve Newcastle clothing manufacturers conducted by the Department of Labour, the Department of Home Affairs, the SA Police Service, the industry bargaining council and the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU), following widespread complaints from workers about the conditions they have to work under.

The raids confirmed the reports of factory workers and earlier findings of SACTWU:

  • With regards to toilets

    • At almost all companies that we surveyed workers are not supplied with toilet paper. Instead they are expected to use pieces of fabric supplied by the company. Instead of flushing these fabric off-cuts down the toilet, workers are expected to place these off-cuts in bags or boxes next to the toilet. These bags or boxes are often only removed once a week, resulting in filthy, smelly and unhygienic conditions.
    • Where toilet paper is supplied, workers are often expected to pay for the use thereof, even though they receive very low wages. Employers deduct this payment from workers’ weekly wages.
    • It has been reported to us that, in certain factories, workers do not even have the use of toilets but are expected to use buckets.
    • Where workers have the use of toilets, it is often totally inadequate. For example, the Department of Labour reports that “in one instance it was found that only one toilet was shared by almost sixty male and female employees”.
    • Workers in some factories have to pay penalties if they stay in the toilet for longer than a couple of minutes. These penalties are then deducted from their weekly wages.

       
  • With regards to the employment of undocumented foreign workers, the Department of Labour’s report on the raids state, “The inspection also exposed the practice of hiring illegal foreign labour from countries like Lesotho, Swaziland and China resulting in the SAPS together with Immigration Officers arresting and detaining almost forty six foreigners.” The inspection teams further found that several factories had set up compounds where foreign workers were housed under horrible conditions. SACTWU is also aware that at one factory foreign workers are housed in a shipping container on the factory premises. The Department of Labour’s report reflects recent findings by the Department of Home Affairs who uncovered similar practices at other clothing factories in Newcastle. The employment of undocumented foreign workers is usually only done to evade labour and human rights as such workers are vulnerable and have no or very little recourse to the law. 

 

  • With regards to unemployment benefits

    • Following the raids, the Department reported that, “Employers were also found to be on the wrong side of the law when it came to making declarations and paying contributions to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF).” This is in line with the reports from workers and our own findings that dozens of clothing factories in Newcastle do not pay UIF to the Department of Labour, including factories that have been around for decades. This means that should workers be retrenched, they would not be able to use the social protection system provided by government for the unemployed as they would be disqualified from claiming unemployment benefits.
    • Where companies actually pay UIF contributions to the Department of Labour, they often only pay for a portion of their workforce, meaning a substantial number of workers would not be eligible for social protection were they to be retrenched.
    • Our findings also indicate that some companies deduct workers’ UIF contributions from their weekly wages but do not pay these contributions to the Department of Labour. This is tantamount to theft.


The problems above are not particular to the clothing companies which were raided. They are widespread in the clothing sector in Newcastle. Yet neither are the abuses listed above the only abuses which clothing workers in Newcastle suffer.
 
Says Andre Kriel, SACTWU’s General Secretary, “Recently, some commentators have rallied around certain Newcastle clothing employers and lauded their resistance to paying the legally-prescribed wages as holding the key to the future of South Africa’s unemployment problem through a more flexible labour market with lower wages. As has been shown during these raids, this so-called key involves abusing workers’ most basic labour and human rights and a return to the exploitation of workers seen during apartheid.” 

SACTWU condemns this illegality and abuse of workers’ most basic rights. We congratulate the Department of Labour, the Department of Home Affairs, the industry bargaining council, and the SA Police Service for their good work. We call on government to continue its crackdown on illegal employment practices and human rights abuses in the clothing industry.

We also place on record that we are aware of threats to the safety of some SACTWU officials in reprisal for our fight for human rights and dignity in Newcastle.

Issued by Chris Gina, SACTWU National Organising Secretary.

For more information, contact Chris Gina on 031 3011351 or 082 9409456.

*** Note to journalists and editors ***

Find the Department of Labour’s statement on the raids at http://www.labour.gov.za/media-desk/media-alerts/clampdown-on-kzn-clothing-factories