A reply to Pravin Gordhan - SACTWU

Andre Kriel rejects finance minister's criticism of SA's labour dispensation


SACTWU rejects Minister Pravin Gordhan's pronouncements yesterday that we may have to change the South African labour dispensation. He reportedly used the current situation in Newcastle as an example, saying a balance needs to be found to retain jobs at clothing factories in Newcastle, while still allowing workers to earn a reasonable wage and keeping the factories open.

The Minister seems not to have taken into account the extensive wage and employment flexibility that already exists in the clothing sector. For instance, SACTWU has agreed to a flexible wage structure for the sector, where the minimum wage for some workers is significantly lower than that in other parts of the country. In fact, there are at least 13 different legally prescribed starting rates for machinists, based on geographic differences. The lowest legally prescribed wage is in areas like Newcastle. There is no "one size fits all".

Further, although wage rates in the clothing industry are bitterly low, SACTWU has allowed a concession that employers can pay 70% of these rates as part of a phase-in programme towards full compliance.

The Minister also fails to take into account the already very low wages in the clothing sector - the legal minimum wage for a new machinist, who in all probability is single and has at least five dependents, is as low as R416.50 per week. The Minister seems to argue that this wage is too high.

In reality, some Newcastle bosses pay their workers much lower - as low as between R150 and R280 per week. They call this a living wage.

Any arguments to lower wages that are already as low as these are just a justification for the exploitation of workers.

We would urge the Minister to focus rather on one of the main problems causing job losses in the clothing sector: customs fraud. The SA Revenue Services (SARS), which falls under the Minister's department, can do much, much more to combat under-invoicing, transhipment, smuggling and other types of fraud. For a few years now, SARS has tried to deal with this problem but we are yet to see the fruits of its labour.

We urge Minister Gordhan to make decisive interventions to deal with this matter. If he does this, it would be one of the most useful interventions to stabilise and grow employment in the clothing sector.

Statement issued by Andre Kriel, SACTWU General Secretary, August 16 2011

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