Newcastle factories plan mass shutdown, following protest and murder

protest, Newcastillian
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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.

Read more: Stephenson Street factory owner strangled to death

“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.

protest, Newcastillian

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.


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4 Responses

  1. As a bussiness owner that is contracted to chain store suppliers like all the Chinese owners i do not agree with this protest as there is no tangible evidence of the allegations. You might have a few factories that are not fully compliant with the demands from the labour department which they are currently working towards resolving.Issue of u.i.f covid funds are highly debatable as government keeps changing their formats for applying and causing more confusion and delays for employers.This must be made clear that there is no way that the employer can steal the funds from the employee if it was paid outto the employer.The employer has 5 days to pay out the moneys to the workers with proof to the u.i.f failing of which the employer can be charged.About 4 weeks ago i was present with the organisor of the march at a factory whereby he promised the workers in front of the factories owner that he will sort out the issues with the u.i.f office so they will get paid by that weekend.Conveniently the computers were offline due to a breakage in a cable and no payments from u.i.f was made for the employees.These protesters are being brainwashed by the so called representatives who is acting for recognition and nothing else.As for human trafficking, thats a joke.Meetings with government was held in Newcastle with factory owners recently regarding the above and all factories are aware of the penalties regarding this and will not take a chance and incur such penalties.R1.5 million if found guilty.As for the piece rate system it is fair in our environment to adopt this system.You cannot pay for people who does not want to be productive.I know of factories paying their workers above normal rates because they are very productive and going above targets set out.if an average target is set at 10 piece per hour for example,you will get an oprator that will achieve 14 pieces per hour and on the other hand you those oprators that are not focused producing 5 pieces per hour.Targets set for piece rates are set on average scores.You cannot pay both these people a same rate.To run a factory is not easy and is stressfull.As for employers assaulting the workers it is another fabricated story.Its the other way round.We just had an owner murdered yesterday.Did you hear of a worker been murdered.I do not blame the chinese factory owners for thinking of relocating to other neighboring countries because its becoming to volatile to operate in this country.The unnecessary despruption are causing huge losses for these bussinesses. Im sure the Chinese consulate feels the same and will even go as far as to financially assist their people to relocate or shut down temporarily till these issues are resloved and the only people that will suffer is our people.No work no pay.

  2. Having being closely involved with one of the Chinese factories in the past I would say that there is an element of truth in what the protestors say, Malawians are employed at below the minimum rate, furthermore, they are expected to work overtimeseven days a week without being paid the legislated overtime rates either

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