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Clothing workers rally to face challenges head on

Mar 23 2016 17:43
Carin Smith

Cape Town - The Cosatu-affiliated Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (Sactwu) held its National Bargaining Conference from March 18 to 21 2016, in Cape Town, since 2016 is a collective bargaining year for all its major industrial sectors.

Its longer-term wage agreements - most of which were for two years - will expire at the end of June and August 2016.

Sactwu will negotiate in three national bargaining councils - clothing, textiles and leather - two provincial bargaining councils - canvas goods in Gauteng and laundry in KwaZulu-Natal - eight company group level negotiations and also conduct just over 100 plant level wage bargains.

Wage negotiations with most employers are due to begin in mid-April this year.

At its conclusion later this year, all Sactwu's collective bargaining agreements are expected to cover just over 100 000 workers in our industry, nationally.

The Conference was attended by 400 delegates, 356 of whom were shop stewards representing all Sactwu members in the clothing, textile, footwear, leather, distribution, sheltered employment, laundry and related sectors in all parts of South Africa.

The main purpose of the conference was to consolidate nationally the union’s workplace-collected living wage demands - collected among about 85 000 members - for its 2016 round of substantive negotiations.

Demands collected mainly covered wages as well as a range of other collective bargaining related demands, such as retirement benefits improvements, shift allowances, health care provisions, maternity rights, holiday pay and general worker rights issues.

Bettering lives

The conference was opened by Sactwu President Themba Khumalo, who reminded delegates that the union’s main task is to look after members' interests first, and to ensure it contributes to bettering members’ lives.

Khumalo expressed concern that Sactwu will have a tough year with many challenges because of the state of the economy. He emphasised that the issue of jobs protection and promotion should be at the centre of Sactwu’s programme.  

Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies told delegates he recalled that, on taking office, the clothing, textile, footwear and leather (CTFL) industry was bleeding and was being written off as a “sunset industry”.

However, government realised, after engaging with Sactwu and other stakeholders that the right policies were not in place and responded by introducing a new package of support measures for our industry. This has helped to stabilise the industry.

Davies cautioned, however, that there is still much to do though, to grow jobs in the industry. He implored Sactwu to use the conference to develop measures to grow decent work in the industry and to ensure that there is an equitable sharing of the benefits of industry growth.

Challenges

Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel (Sactwu’s previous general secretary) then provided delegates with details on government’s six pack of programmes to help the industry, including duty protection, industry development incentives, cheaper industrial loans, fighting customs fraud, government’s local procurement promotion programme and skills development.

He set out the opportunities that have arisen, especially with a weak currency and urged the industry to take advantage of it.

Patel also set out some of the challenges and priorities for the period ahead, including the local government elections, deepening the investment in the skills base of ordinary workers, implementing a pro-growth strategy that supported decent work opportunities, unifying and strengthening Cosatu and developing a stronger partnership between workers, investors and the state.

He called on delegates to fight against "corporate capture of the state" and corruption and "to defend the movement of Mandela, Tambo and Luthuli".

Delegates, in turn, voiced strong opinions about defending the ANC against "powerful business families and others who seek to improperly influence decisions".

Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini told delegates that the federation's influence on society must remain based on its organising power and its capacity to mobilise its members, and on its socio-economic programme of action and policies, as well as its participation in the alliance.

He called on delegates to ensure that Cosatu remains committed to worker control and democracy, and to maintain its independence being conscious of the dangers of being co-opted by employers and politicians.

He called on Sactwu and its the conference to come up with ground breaking resolutions in line with its call for radical economic transformation.

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