Department of Employment and Labour meets with Newcastle clothing and textile industry to find a solution

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After chaos and unrest being endured within the local clothing and textile industry of late, the Department of Employment and Labour is stepping in to address issues between factory owners and their employees in Newcastle, KZN. 

Over the past two months, two Chinese factory owners were brutally slain. One strangled to death, while another was viciously stabbed. Amidst this brutality, factory workers took to the streets at the end of July, demanding their voices be heard. Blaming factory owners for an array of misdeeds, which included not paying out their Unemployment Insurance Fund’s (UIF) Covid-19 TERS benefit scheme funds and going as far as to claim Chinese businessmen were sleeping with staff.

Due to the never-ending saga which the Chinese community were dealing with, factories conducted a mass shutdown in solidarity, refusing to remain silent, uniting as one against the persistent onslaught of violence and blame.

With the South African economy struggling to endure, the Department of Employment and Labour is now taking steps to ensure that factory owners and their staff find a common ground, working together for the benefit of all parties concerned.

Factory owners, union representatives and members of the Chinese Chamber met with the Department on Thursday, September 3, to discuss the issues faced and the possible steps forward.

This was followed by the Department meeting with factory employees on Friday, September 4, discussing the staff’s issues and addressing several pressing problems stemming from misinformation.

Factory employees during the two-day meeting with the Department of Employment and Labour.

Nhlanhla Khumalo from the Department of Labour explained a team of officials had been allocated to address the situation, following several complaints revolving around the clothing and textile industry in Newcastle.

“Some of the information which was shared with the employees and employers was misleading. One of the biggest issues was that of the UIF TERS, where there was a misunderstanding on how it works,” he said.

Khumalo adds, during the two-day meeting other issues such as pay increases and working conditions were also brought up by the employers and employees.

While admitting the employees were angry, Khumalo said a sense of calm prevailed during the department’s meeting with them. However, the team took great pains in ensuring, both employees and their employers knew exactly what was expected of them; while explaining the steps forward.

Alex Liu, a local councillor and business owner, explained the meeting proved to be not only to be positive; but was also a step in the right direction.

“The Department has at least dedicated a team to help resolve the issues. But there is still a long road ahead for both the factory owners and their staff,” he says.

Due to the actions of the last two months, Liu stresses that the relationship between the factory owners and their staff was somewhat strained.

“The relationship between the two is still somewhat volatile and it will take a long time to get it back to where it was.”

However, he assures factory owners will work towards a future which will be beneficial for the employees and the productivity of their respective companies.

As the Department of Employment and Labour takes steps to address the growing issues in the clothing and textile industry, can they help find solutions? And more importantly, will the sector recover from the plague of issues, allowing them to develop and grow, ensuring job security?

Authors: Quinton Bouchet and Calvin Swemmer

Edited: Calvin Swemmer

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