Footwear workers the latest to join ranks of strikers
As the country’s strike season intensifies, footwear workers became the latest sector on Wednesday to down tools over wage offers.
According to the South African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (Sactwu), 10,000 workers took part in the strike on its first day.
Workers are striking over the sector employers’ final wage offer of 6.25%. It was rejected by unions, which have tabled a 9.5% demand.
Affected companies include Oudtshoorn Footwear, Dick Whittington Shoes and Bresan Footwear, based in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.
Members of the National Union of Leather & Allied Workers are also taking part in the action.
A 2018 report into the South African footwear industry showed it was worth R54.9bn. Data compiled by the South African Footwear and Leather Industries Association shows that 193 footwear manufacturers employed a total 11,937 people.
SA’s demand for footwear is said to be 248-million pairs, of which imports accounted for 181.1-million pairs, with China supplying nearly 90%.
Wage negotiations in the sector started in May, with Sactwu warning of a potential strike in the first week of June.
The union said its survey had shown that most footwear factories had shut their doors as a result of Wednesday’s protest.
The industrial action came after the release of the Industrial Action report by the Department of Labour, which found the country had the highest number of strikes yet in 2018. These were due to disputes over wages, with the country’s high levels of inequality blamed for the labour unrest.
Cost of living
Labour federation Cosatu said in its support statement to its Sactwu affiliate that the workers’ demands were "reasonable", citing the rising cost of living as a motivation.
"Workers’ wages need to keep up if they are to afford to feed and clothe themselves and their families," Cosatu spokesman Sizwe Pamla said.
An earnings and labour market report that was released in May indicated that wages, mostly among the lowest-paid employees, had stagnated over the past five years.
This was blamed on the socioeconomic pressures faced by workers as the cost of transport, food and other services climbed steep.
Cosatu called on its other affiliates to push for decent wages during this winter’s round of negotiations.