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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: LOW WAGES LEAD TO FACTORY CLOSURES

SIR — Mister Sparks has now emerged as the latest advocate of misconceptions about the clothing industry’s challenges. Take his unsubstantiated assertion that the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (Sactwu) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) are not interested in job creation (Newcastle points the way to beating unemployment, November 10). Maybe Mr Sparks does not know that Sactwu has for 22 years owned and run a successful medium-sized clothing manufacturing company in Durban, which pays the legal minimum wage and which was set up years ago to employ retrenched workers.

Has he conveniently forgotten that, in 1998, Cosatu mobilised thousands of its members to voluntarily donate a day’s wages to the Labour Job Creation Trust (JCT), in the process generating R89m, which to date has created more than 40 000 jobs, of which most are permanent? Does he know that the JCT had, by early November this year, managet .. bring back 376 000 units of clothing previously manufactured in places such as China and, in the process, now sustains five local “cut-make and trim” factories employing almost 600 workers, with more in the accompanying supply chain?

Does he not know that Sactwu stepped in with a R200m investment to save 15000 Seardel Group clothing and textile jobs, when this company was threatened with closure in 2008? Does he know how many thousands of downstream jobs this intervention has additionally either saved or created in customer or supplier businesses of Seardel?

Mr Sparks alleges that the union refuses to agree to link earnings to output. Has he e .. had the decency to ask us what the facts are? If he did, he would know that it was Sactwu, not the employers, that demanded during its 2007 wage negotiations that earnings must be linked to productivity. Does he know that clothing employers have declined to accept the union’s proposal to further grow this type of productivity-linked wage model?

Mr Sparks preaches that we refuse to budge on the minimum wage. The facts are different, but the results simply confirm that low wages are the wrong path.

For example: at Union Spinning Mills, a Port Elizabeth-based textile factory, th union agreed to a 30% cut in total labour costs a few years ago, at great organisational risk. That factory has subsequently closed down.

Does Mr Sparks know that, a few years ago, the union agreed to a substantially lower entry minimum wage for the KwaZulu-Natal clothing manufacturing industry and that this has not resulted in Newcastle employers complying with the law, despite assurances from employers that it would?

Why does he position the industry’s problems as solely a wage-related problem, when everyone knows that. the root of the industry’s current woes are to be found in previous inappropriate trade-, industrial- and retailer sourcing policy measures?

Source: Business Day – Andre Kriel – General Secretary SACTWU