Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) criticised the Department of Trade and Industry on Monday, saying it was "folding its arms" and doing nothing while thousands of workers were losing their jobs in the poultry industry.

RCL Foods plants in Hammarsdale will retrench 1,350 workers at the end of January. RCL Foods owns the Rainbow Chicken brand, SA’s second-biggest poultry producer.

Country Bird Holdings, the country’s third-biggest poultry producer, has said it would be shedding about 1,500 jobs in the next few months.

Industry watchers blame chicken imports, which averaged 27,500-tonnes a month for the 12 months to June 2016, a 43% increase on the previous comparable period.

Fawu general secretary Katishi Masemola told Business Day on Monday that government leaders had been saying they would act urgently to prevent job losses in the poultry sector, but they had not matched these words with deeds.

"We are very disappointed at what the government is doing.

"It has not engaged us as stakeholders to come up with solutions about what can be done to save jobs. We have called for such meetings, but nobody has heeded our calls.

"If government is serious about the matter of job losses, they would have met us by now. They would also have written to the EU and other countries to call for the reversal of trade agreements that allow other countries to dump their chicken pieces in the South African market," he said.

Masemola said the job losses were a result of the "dumping" of chicken parts by the US, Brazil and the EU.

"We are saying that our government must impose hefty tariffs on these chicken pieces.

"We were calling for tariffs of up to 40%, but government has recently announced that it will impose a tariff of a low 13.9% and this would definitely not deter the dumping of chicken pieces in our market," he said.

Masemola said the local poultry industry could not compete with its counterparts in the US and the EU because they imposed technical barriers to trade on South African food products to avoid competition.

RCL Foods spokesman Stephen Heath concurred with Masemola. He said the poultry industry was at the end of its tether and was forced to retrench workers to stay afloat.

"During the meetings we’ve had with government and other stakeholders, we stressed the urgency of implementing solutions that will save jobs," Heath said, adding that the government delegations did not make any commitments.

"We strongly believe that government can impose some barriers that will help protect this country’s poultry industry just as much as the Americans and the EU impose to protect their farming industries."

Department of Trade and Industry spokesman Sidwell Medupe was not available for comment despite several attempts to contact him. He did not reply to messages.

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