Chanting fills the air as approximately 500 protestors make their way to Riverside Industrial. Their mission is a simple one. They intend to make their voices heard. They want their demands to be met.
According to protestors, Chinese factory owners in the Newcastle area are proving to be problematic.
“They are eating the COVID-19 monies which are meant to be coming to us. Also, they are employing foreigners from Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland instead of locals,” claims one protestor.
Other protestors claim foreign nationals are then expected to work long hours, while being forced to sleep in the factory premises.
“Factory owners are also beating staff and expecting us to leave our babies at home, simply to stay in the factories like the foreigners. Some of the factory owners also want to sleep with the staff, which is not right,” another protestor claims.
The matter of wages is also a prominent cause of the protest. According to protestors, they want R20 per hour and not the minimum wages they are now receiving.
“Piece rates must fall!” the protestors chant.
The protestors’ memorandum also includes:
- UIF relief funding for April, May and June
- The issuing of proper pay slaips
- No temporary workers
- No hand payments
Speaking on behalf of the Chinese factory owners, Alex Liu explains that factory owners are taking the allegations seriously.
“I am currently in contact with the Chinese Embassy, who is taking the allegations just as seriously. However, we need the protestors to bring us tangible proof. We need to know which factories are the issues. If we are to address the problems, we need to know who is responsible as we cannot go on hearsay.”
This includes the allegations of factory owners beating their staff, forcing staff to sleep in factories and cases where owners are allegedly sleeping with staff.
Furthermore, looking at the issue pertaining to the COVID-19 relief funds, Liu explains this is not an issue which the Chinese factory owners can be blamed for.
“This is an issue which is happening around the country. It is not an isolated case happening just in Newcastle. A lot of the issues should also be taken to the Department of Labour, as we believe action such as this does not help resolve anything.”
Furthermore, protestors claim Chinese factory owners are the cause of staff members contracting COVID-19. Liu claims these allegations are unfounded.
“There are currently 12 Chinese members with COVID-19 and none of them have any travel history, which means they might have got it from their staff. Also, the first case of COVID-19 in South Africa is from a person who travelled to Italy and not one of our members.”
With the protest action and the allegations made against Chinese factory owners, is this the beginning of the end of the clothing and textile industry in Newcastle?
Liu says protest action such as today’s, July 27, and the allegations made against Chinese residents promotes violence. Violence which results in the deaths of innocent lives, such as the Chinese factory owner which was murdered on July 26.
“Factory owners will now be shutting down their factories for a duration of two to four weeks. This is in solidarity against the violence shown towards Chinese factory owners,” Liu says.
The planned shutdown will be announced in the nearby future, as factory owners will be consulting with their staff.
“It also gives factory owners time to take the necessary steps, as we believe it is necessary to follow the proper steps. We also do not want to expose our staff to violent protests.”
Liu says one of the biggest concerns from the protest is the possible infection rate.
“I saw footage with several protestors not wearing face masks or practising social distancing. Many people could possibly be infected as they are not protected.
Furthermore, Liu says the clothing and textile industry is already facing a bleak future due to the pandemic.
“Before the pandemic and all the protests, we employed between 15 000 to 18 000 people. After all of this, we will most likely only be employing 5 000 to 8 000 people.”
He adds that many factory owners are now also looking at either shutting down their factories completely or relocating out of Newcastle.
As the protestors demand that their voices are heard, and the textile and clothing industry faces overwhelming odds, what are your thoughts on the matter? Do you feel the protestors are justified in their protest? Or do you feel factory owners are becoming scapegoats during these trying times?
Share your thoughts and views with us in the comment section below.