Pretoria – Chinese workers are increasingly taking jobs away from unemployed South Africans – with the government’s blessing, a Sake24 study shows.
Sake24 recently visited the Rayal ceramics factory being built in Ekandustria outside Bronkhorstspruit.
Between 30 and 40 Chinese supervisors are employed in the construction stage, says Rayal spokesperson John Zhu. South Africans are merely being hired as day-wage workers for construction purposes.
When the factory becomes operational, up to 140 Chinese and about 300 South Africans will be employed, says Zhu. Accommodation for the Chinese workers is under construction.
But an industry expert who visited the factory says this 42 000m² plant will require hardly more than the 140 workers, suggesting that it will be operated predominantly by Chinese.
Similar ceramics factories have previously been built in South Africa and operated by local workers. According to the industry leader no special skill unavailable locally is required.
All the construction material for the factory has also been imported from China. “Everything you see here, other than the cement and sand on the floor, comes from China,” says Zhu.
Kobus de Beer of the Southern African Institute of Steel Construction (SAISC) says around 1 200 tonnes of structural steel would be used.
To manufacture this, a medium-sized company could provide 210 employees with three months’ work, and work for another 150 for three months during construction.
If one includes the support industries, such as the transport of products, the manufacturing of the steel could provide a total 930 South Africans with three months of work.
Similar calculations can be done for the other construction materials not purchased locally.
De Beer says such projects are exempt from a 15% import duty and in this instance government has been deprived of R3.6m on the structural steel alone.
Furthermore it appears that the Chinese workers are paid in China and the communities in which such projects are being erected do therefore not derive any benefit from the customary ripple effects of a wage bill.
The Rayal factory strongly reminds one of the Sephaku cement factory that the state-controlled Chinese group Sinoma is building outside Lichtenburg, also with government approval.
Sake24 previously reported that only a quarter of the workforce there, which will reach as many as 1 500, will be South Africans. Practically all the construction material is imported and Sinoma has even imported its own cranes and construction equipment to get the job done.
De Beer says that in 2008 and later in 2010 the SAISC tried to prevent the way in which the Sephaku project was taking shape, but without success.
In both cases the Department of Trade & Industry apparently played a big role in attracting the foreign investment.
Zhu says the department had canvassed the Rayal investment at a trade show in China. “We first wanted to put up a textile factory, but the department said that the local textile industry was protected and we should rather consider construction materials.”
The departments of Labour and Home Affairs also have to give approval, but apparently follow the recommendations of the Department of Trade & Industry.
There is clearly little consultation with the organised labour sector and local industrial organisations, and no-one knows how many similar projects have already been approved and are under way.
Solidarity deputy general secretary Dirk Hermann says the union is concerned about a lack of compliance with labour legislation on these projects and they are striving for regular inspections.
“Every foreigner who takes a job away from a South African takes the food out of the mouths of eight South Africans,” he says.
“By right the government should act firmly against such practices. We are worried that foreigners are entering the country by means of a system that should actually protect South Africans.”
The Department of Trade & Industry has not responded to repeated requests for comment.
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