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Union decries clothing factory ruling

Mar 14 2013 16:22 Sapa

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Durban - A ruling giving the Newcastle Chinese and Taiwanese clothing factories exemption from a bargaining council wage agreement was a hollow victory, Sactwu said on Thursday.

"It has now only hardened the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union's attitude towards them, the opposite effect of what they expected," general secretary Andre Kriel said.

"It is a hollow victory for non-compliant employers."

Business Day reported that a group of five Taiwanese-owned factories and the United Clothing and Textile Association asked the Pietermaritzburg High Court to set aside the minimum wages set by the bargaining council during a wage agreement in 2010.

Judge Piet Koen ruled that factories which were not members of the council could hold separate talks about pay levels with their workers.

He set aside a decision by Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant to bind non-members to clothing industry national bargaining council agreements.

Koen reportedly said less than half of employees in the clothing industry were represented by the national bargaining council.

Kriel said on Thursday there had been "widespread mis-reporting" about the ruling.

"It is not true that the judge has ruled that non-compliant, non-party companies now have the right to negotiate outside of the bargaining council system," he said.

Kriel also dismissed reports that the judgment had the effect of setting aside the clothing industry minimum wage regime.

"As we speak now, there is still a gazetted and extended industry-wide minimum wage agreement in place, despite the setting aside of the 2010 extension."

The judgment did not mean the bargaining council could not force compliance to companies which were not part of the council, Kriel said.

He said it was also not true that the minister of labour would no longer be able to extend a bargaining council agreement to non-parties.

"The judgment has only identified an administrative error in the manner in which the minister has extended the 2010 wage agreement."

Kriel denied reports claiming the industry's collective bargaining structure was a cosy club of big business, the union and government, who deliberately manipulated wage levels, to the detriment of small companies.

"The facts are different: 87% of companies that are members of associations belonging to the bargaining council are small, medium and micro-sized enterprises," he said.

"[We] represent more than 85% of these companies' workers. Government is not represented on the bargaining council at all."

He said the union would study the judgment and make a decision on whether to appeal or not.

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