SEARDEL workers in Cape Town took to the streets yesterday during a lunchtime protest over the clothing giant’s plan to slice 1 500 jobs.

Seardel chief executive Stuart Queen said previously that the company had endured substantial losses and a staff cut was the only way it would survive. Last month he notified the SA Clothing and Textile Workers Union (Sactwu) of its intention to axe 1 000 workers in Cape Town and 500 in KZN.

About 300 clothing workers – most of them women – attended the protest outside Seardel’s Epping premises.

“I’ve given 25 years… yes, 25 years of my life working here. I’m deeply concerned about what will happen if I’m without a job. I’ve got a bond to pay, my children are at school and my one daughter is at university. I’m really worried,” said office clerk Valerie Stringer.

Some of the protesters held posters with the words “What about our families?” and “Get rid of highly paid managers”.

Union shop steward Bonny Foure said: “We have been having talks with management, but nothing constructive has come of it so far. Workers are furious. Not just about facing retrenchment, but also because none of the top managers are affected.”

Sactwu spokesman Fachmy Abrahams said they had two rounds of talks facilitated by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration and another was planned for next week.

“We are now starting to get into the meat of the company’s reasons for retrenchments. We expect further answers next week. Workers are not interested in retrenchment packages, but are committed to working and seeing the industry grow. It is that kind of commitment we also want to see from Seardel.”

The retrenchments are ironic as Sactwu owns about 40 percent of Hosken Consolidated Investments which in turn owns 70 percent of Seardel. In 2010, Sactwu pumped R200 million of workers’ money into Seardel and helped save thousands of jobs, including about 800 at Intimate Apparel where yesterday’s protest took place. Union officials have defended its “intervention” and said it was purely to save about 15 000 Seardel jobs at the time and the union had no involvement in any management decisions.

Added to the irony was last year’s pact which Sactwu signed with industry bosses where it agreed to a 30 percent drop in entry level wages for new workers in exchange for management’s creation of 5 000 jobs by 2014.

Despite the pact signed in October, the union has been served retrenchment notifications more than once.

Abrahams said: “Retrenchments have not stopped, but over the last two years it has drastically been reduced. We still believe the pact will work. The lower wage is for those who have not been employed in the industry before.”

He said mechanisms used to avoid or minimise job cuts included a training lay-off scheme under which workers’ skills were upgraded while their company “realigned” itself. Under the scheme, workers received 75 percent of their wages which was paid jointly by the National Skills Fund, the UIF and the Fibre Processing and Manufacturing (FP&M) Seta.

Source: Cape Times – Aziz Hartley