Wake up: Katishi Masemola, general secretary of Fawu, hopes to make ordinary EU citizens aware of the damage to the sector. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Wake up: Katishi Masemola, general secretary of Fawu, hopes to make ordinary EU citizens aware of the damage to the sector. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

Workers and executives from the poultry industry will head back to the Pretoria offices of the European Commission on Wednesday to protest against the destruction of the local industry by what they say is the dumping of chicken portions from the EU.

Following a similar demonstration in December, 1,000 workers, managers and shareholders are expected to march again on the EU’s offices to protest against the thousands of jobs being lost.

"We’re holding them responsible for the loss of the 1,350 jobs axed by Rainbow last week," said one prospective protester.

The march will be under the banner of the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) but management representatives from the four major poultry companies — Rainbow, Astral, Country Bird and Sovereign Foods — are expected to participate in the march.

Fawu general secretary Katishi Masemola said they wanted to assure workers that they were not forgotten.

They were also hoping to make ordinary European citizens aware of the damage caused by their exports.

Tension has been growing between the EU and SA in recent months and escalated in December when the Department of Trade and Industry slapped a "safeguard duty" of 13.9% on frozen legs imported from the EU.

The duty, which will apply until early July, was imposed on the recommendation of the International Trade Administration Commission.

The local industry is calling for a 37% duty and has described the 13.7% duty as inadequate.

The EU and local importers said they would challenge the department’s decision on technical grounds relating to the terms of the free trade agreement between the EU and SA.

Earlier in January, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom rebuked Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies for the decision on the safeguard duty, suggesting it had not followed proper procedures.

Malmstrom also expressed reservations about the effectiveness of the import duty. "My services have closely followed this case and still seriously doubts that the imposition of the bilateral safeguard measures is justified. It appears that the real problems of the South African poultry industry [are] not so much caused by the imports from the EU, but that it is suffering from structural problems affecting its competitiveness."

Local industry players are adamant that they are significantly more competitive than producers in the EU. "Their cost of production is significantly higher than ours even though they receive subsidies," said Country Bird CEO Marthinus Stander, who will be participating in the march.

Hardin Ratshisusu, deputy commissioner of the Competition Commission, has called for a constructive and collaborative long-term approach to the difficulties facing the industry. He said a 20% increase in prices over the past 12 months, despite the increase in imports, was a sign that the local industry was losing its competitiveness.

Ratshisusu said significant barriers to entry along the entire poultry value chain and the dominance of a few large, vertically integrated companies was harming competitiveness.

Katishi said the task team set up by the government, workers and business had to ensure any relief from imports would not be used to hike prices and profits.

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