Claire Bisseker asks Southern African Clothing & Textile Workers’ Union (Sactwu) general secretary Andre Kriel about Seardel’s plans to close Intimate Apparel and retrench 800 workers

CB: Was Sactwu’s 2008 decision to rescue Seardel, through Its acquisition by HCI, a bad investment decision?

AK: It was a good decision and never an investment for profit, saving 15 OOO Seardel jobs and preventing loss of critical industrial capacity at a time when it faced almost certain bankruptcy. Each Seardel job supports five dependants. The up and downstream detrimental multiplier effect could have meant the tipping point for the entire industry.

CB: Despite owning Seardel and changing the management, you’ve been unable to prevent extensive retrenchments.

AK: Had we not intervened, the alternative could have meant the closure of the entire Seardel Group. As of March it still employed almost 12 000 workers.

CB: Seardel blames falling sales and soaring labour costs for recent layoffs.

AK: We do not accept that labour costs have been soaring. In the past seven years clothing industry labour cost increases have either just kept track with inflation or have been below inflation. Clothing workers are the lowestpaid workers in the domestic manufacturing industry. The starting rate for a machinist in Cape Town is R564/week and in Durban. R456.

CB: Is the company being badly run?

AK: Though there are issues we remain concerned about, it is clearly being run much better than previously.

CB: What is to blame for its continued unproflitbllity?

AK:Diminishing volumes, ever lower prices demanded by its retail customers, and customs fraud by importers.

CB:Is government fulfilling its undertaking to provide special support?

AK:Yes. Almost all the agreed support initiatives have been implemented. The flagship production incentive was introduced in May. Seardel should access these like any other {clothing] company.

CB: You have been seeking a meeting with Woolworths, a key customer of Intimate Apparel. What can it do?

AK: Woolworths can play a big role in helping to prevent the job losses at this plant. We have not yet met.

CB: Why should retailers pay local suppliers more when they can source products cheaper from, say, China?

AK: The playing fields aren’t level. If they were, our industry would be competitive. It can provide shorter delivery times, better flexibility and more certainty, often at higher quality. It’s in retailers’ long term interests to ensure a local supply base to combat currency risks and rising prices in Asia.

CB: Does the SA clothing manufacturing industry have a future?

AK: Absolutely!

Source: Financial Mail – Claire Bisseker