A report on the working and living conditions of Workers in the Clothing and retail sector in South Africa. Compiled by Hameda Deedat

1. Introduction and background:

The South African clothing industry has shed over 70 000 jobs in the last decade. Higher labour were arguably put forward as the main cause noting the precarious and sub0 standard working conditions devoid of the decent work frame in other garment, shoe and textile industries globally. Since 2003, SACTWU has used the National Bargaining Council and particularly Cape Town based employers to impose higher wages in the clothing industry. Large factories in South Africa, for example Seardel (owned by SACTWU), benefit from capital subsidies under the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) as well as tax incentives.(Maraire 2016)The down side however, within the global context made the industry less competitive. This combined with the competition from cheap imports from Brazil, China, India and Bangladesh to name a few, as well as the huge dumping of cheap goods, resulted in factories closures and wide-scale retrenchments in the sector. (Deedat & van der Westhuizen 2005) After 2002, the export of South African clothing exports to almost zero, whilst imports rose despite a tariff level of 40 per cent, then raised to 45 per cent by 2013. Clothing imports from China flooded the South African market and comprised 61 per cent of total clothing imports by 2008 and 74 per cent by 2010 (Nattrass & Seekings, 2013). Trade liberalisation left the domestic/national clothing industry both vulnerable to imports and dumping predominantly from China, but also crippled the industry.

It is significant to note that the South African garment industry was hhistorically, one of the biggest garment producers on the African continent.(Guardian, Sustainable Business, 2015). The consequence was so profound that South Africa was even unable to compete with imports from Lesotho, despite the Lesotho’s increase in exports to South Africa increasing twenty-fold between 2006 and 2010. Skinner & Valodia (2002) highlight in their research the underestimation of the irreparable damage that was done to the clothing footwear and textile sectors in South Africa as a direct result of liberalisation increased tariff reductions and poor custom controls and dumping. The sector also saw a simultaneous change in production within factories, with a concerted move towards a downward variation of labour standards. Flexibility, casualization, informalisation, shifts and outsourcing with the growth of cut make and trim operations. (Deedat, & Van der Westhuizen, 2003).According to Nattrass & Seekings (2013) the continuous trend to  push for higher wages was part of SACTWU’s strategy under the premise that metro employers could afford to pay higher wages, in part due to tax incentives and subsidies unfortunately, the strategy backfired and resulted in the loss of over 70 000 jobs and an estimated 150,000 over 15 years as a result of trade liberalization, the influx of cheaper clothing(legally and through dumping) particularly from Asia, domestic companies closed down. SACTWU members have been losing their jobs at a rate of 2,000 – 3,000 workers jobs every year, according to IndustriALL (Guardian Sustainable Business Article, 2015).

2015 however, has seen innovative attempts to revitalize the sector with new energy injected in the textile industry to create employment. The garment industry is growing again with an added uptake of new workers. This can be attributed to the tenacity and commitment on the part of SACTWU who has remained well organized, maintained 80 per cent of workers as members and has not relented in its struggle against retrenchments, downsizing and closures, while simultaneously influencing policy at a national level. It has also recognised the imperative of social dialogue with employers who have resorted to a range of techniques to act as the shock absorbers against the “onslaught” to survive (Ibid).

"This is an endorsement that government support for the industry, coupled with our union’s active campaign for jobs, continues to bear fruit,” says Eppel. “After a period of stabilization following years of job losses, employment in our industry appears poised for growth."(Ibid)

2. Country context and labour legislation

The clothing footwear and textile industries in South Africa fall under a Bargaining Council. This is the structure at which trade unions and employers engage in collective bargaining on issues such as wages, working conditions, benefits, and so on. “The Bargaining Council is a collective bargaining platform through which registered unions and employer associations negotiate terms and conditions of employment.”(Maraire, 2016, p3). The regulations pertaining to the role and functions of the Bargaining Council is governed by Section 28 of the Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995 (LRA (1995). The Bargaining Council ensures the enforcement of collective agreements, prevents and resolves labour disputes. The National Bargaining Council for the Clothing Manufacturing Industry was established in 2002, replacing the pre-existing Regional Bargaining Councils. The most crucial feature of the collective bargaining system is governed by Section 32 of the LRA (1995).the law prescribes that parties to the negotiations may ask the Minister of Labour, in writing, to extend a collective agreement concluded in the Bargaining Council to non-parties – i.e. firms that have not signed the agreement, may not be members of any of the employers’ associations participating in the Bargaining Council, and may not even be registered with the Bargaining Council”. For this to be enacted, the agreement must receive support from the majority both amongst the trade unions and the employers’ associations in the Bargaining Council (Ibid).

A negotiated written agreement on workers’ terms and conditions of employment or matter of mutual interest.  . When an agreement has been extended, it is illegal for any employer to offer employees’ wages, working conditions and benefits that are less favourable than those set out in the extended collective agreements. The most recent collective bargaining agreement was for the clothing sector was concluded in September 2014 and is in effect until  31st August 2017 in accordance with the provisions of the Labour Relations Act, 1995,  the agreement has been entered into and concluded between the Cape Clothing Association, Coastal Clothing Manufacturers' Association, Eastern Province Clothing Manufacturers' Association, Free State and Northern Cape Clothing Manufacturers' Association, South African Clothing Manufacturers’ Association, Transvaal Clothing Manufacturers' Association and the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers' Union. Further amendments were then included and effected in October 2015. (National Bargaining Council, National Main Collective Bargaining Agreement for Clothing and manufacturing-2014-17). The collective bargaining agreement covers working conditions, occupational health and safety, benefits, etc. (Ibid). The conditions in the collective agreements are in principle more advance that the rights enshrined within the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, the LRA, Employment Equity Act, Workman’s’ Compensation Act and so on. The conditions in the act would be the legislated rights to which workers (and is applicable to most categories of workers) in the clothing sector are entitled to.

They however, prescribe the minimum and through collective bargaining the standard of variation upwards are negotiated. As part of the provisions in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, wage negotiations were scheduled for 2016. In August 2016, SACTWU settled it Clothing Industry Wage Negotiations.  According to the General Secretary for SACTU Andre Kriel a package increase of 8.5% effective, on 1st September this year will be applied to the first year of the wage agreement. The full 8% of the increase will be allocated to increasing the industry minimum wage, while the 0.5% will be used to improve provident fund contributions. (Kriel,2016). He added that for the second year an increase of Consumer Price Index plus 1% will become effective on 1st September 2017.

“This is provided that in the event of CPI plus 1% resulting in the total labour cost increase being less than the rand value increase for 2016, the adjustment for next year will be the rand equivalent of the 2016 total labour cost increase. Should CPI plus 1% in 2017 exceed this, the parties shall renegotiate the total labour cost quantum” (Kriel, 2016, Press statement, 29 August).Kriel further highlighted other improvements that formed part of this agreement: improvement for shop stewards' paid time off, improved sick leave provisions for workers, and a commitment to host an Industry summit to evaluate the state of the industry and discuss what more should be done to further stabilise and grow it. The agreement also secured provision which imposes "joint and several liability" regarding sub-contracting to non-compliant companies which is a first for the industry and signals a commitment to put an end to non-compliance with the agree industry terms and conditions of employment. The agreement also calls for a review of the industry grading system, to accommodate new forms of work and work organisation which has arisen as a result of technology changes in the industry. Approximately 80 000 clothing workers nationally are expected to benefit from this agreement most of whom are women. (Ibid). 

2.1  Extension of Bargaining Council agreements

The value of the centralized bargaining system is that, if parties to an agreement meet certain criteria for representativeness, they can request the Minister of Labour to extend the agreement to non-parties within the scope of the BC’s jurisdiction. A change to Section 32 of the LRA will now allow the Minister discretion to extend the agreement to non-parties within the registered scope of the BC, even if the employer party to the agreement does not meet all the criteria for representativeness. This is particularly useful for bargaining in the informal economy, where workers may organize, but employers may choose to remain unorganized.  By allowing for the BC scope to cover informal work, and for the extension of BC agreements to informal work, the legal tools are in place as a basis for organizing and bargaining around informal work. (Bennet, 2003, p4)

3. Wages and working conditions:

There are several categories of workers n the clothing factory from a general worker right up t a clothing technician or machine mechanic. According to Kriel et al, there are at least 220 different prescribed wage rates nationally for the benchmark machinists job category, depending on geographic location, manufacturing processes and productivity incentives and this is as a result of the geographical landscape and racial history which enforced this variance in urban and rural and then racial lines, and they still permeates the wage structure today. ”It is claimed that "there is a strong racial undercurrent in this debate." (Nattrass et al, 2013, p3).

Currently The LRS bargaining Council Indicators have not focussed on the clothing sector and figures taken directly from the collective bargaining agreement for the sector indicates the following;

  • The lowest paid worker earns a minimum wage of R532,00 with the possibility of that wage increasing incrementally over 3 years, but not substantially. Depending of the category or department a worker is in but usually a general worker or low skill by and large women, the wage scale is R532-R978- depending on grading, experience (number of years) but to date less than R1000 a week.
  • Workers with skills earn anything from R1005 -R1500 as a minimum wage depending on the work being done and years of experience again predominantly women.
  • Highly skilled or specialised workers such as machinist and cutters pattern makers and technicians and machine mechanics, earn a minimum of R1702 - R1947 per week.

3.1 Working conditions and job security for formalised and informalised workers in the clothing industry:

As a result of the impacts described above many factories resorted to outsourcing conventional operations and gave rise to an informal sector called the Cut make and Trim industries- running from peoples garages (Van der Weshuisen, 2005). CMT have become a prominent feature of the landscape and some of the workers interviewed in Maraires research give voice to their experience: informal workers have been within the clothing industry for decades and have had to move from the formal to the informal either as an alternative to unemployment to maintain their employment when the function was outsourced to a CMT. The pressure and fast pace of the work presents a challenge as they age.  Their functions are not always limited to single units and depending on the order they may get to make the entire dress. For some this only happened in the CMT. Interestingly workers highlighted some positive features to working in CMT’s compared to within factories but overall remained non- committal on the question of which one they preferred formal vs informal employment, which in itself raises serious questions about working conditions in the formal sector.  A key advantage is that a lot of the CMT operations are located within the community where most workers preside and the substantial cut in transport cost and time to and from work was highlighted. As a result their take home pay per week was R750 compared to the R880 machinist in formal employment, who still had to bear a larger transport cost. (Mairaire, 2016)

A key set back was job insecurity. Since the work is order driven, and no work means no pay, unpredictability of the orders was a constant anxiety and workers could not plan and are in a constant space of job insecurity and face all the challenge that go with it. These works are also strongly against performance-related pay as a result of the uncertainty and registered strong distrust of management. It is equally interesting to note that while workers in the formal sector, also identified so advantages around informal work, the stigma associated with working in a CMT and the conditions under which one works has such negative connotations that workers who are retrenched seek re-employment in the formal sector as a first option and would ony out of separation revert to the CMT. The non- compliance with the collective agreements in the CMT and the lack of regulations or enforcement coupled with the job insecurity are key reasons practices that would go unchecked should the union not be involved. Value in being unions has been often expressed. (Maraire, 2016)

‘There is stuff that you want from the union and they are prepared togive it to you … sick book, pension you can withdraw when you get retired, many things you will never get now…’. (Maraire, p13)

“Some home-based workshops that were registered with the Bargaining Council and deducted money for inter alia the sick fund, whilst issuing sick books that the employees could use at designated clinics. Workers at these factories nevertheless felt that the deductions were not fair and wanted their full wage because they did not trust the employer to consistently pay the Bargaining Council, in turn, they would not receive their provident fund should they get retrenched or retire’.(Maraire, 2016,p13)

3.1.1 Worker experiences re wages and the incentive pay:

While SACTWU has been making major inroads to secure decent (and even higher) wages through collective bargaining the current system of flat wage rate has not worked as anticipated with the introduction of the industry. Employers on the other hand advocated for performance-related pay, and the growing informal sector suggests a new system. Alex Liu, Chairman of the Newcastle Chinese Chamber of Commerce, indicated that they have been advocating for incentive based pay for years and argues that it  “our fight is not about paying low wages”. His views represent that of manufacturers arguing that a new wage model should reflect productivity in order to ensure their competitiveness in part due to wages becoming directly proportional to productivity.  As result of not reaching consensus to date, employers have illegally been trying out the scheme and have worsened relations between workers who feel that this system is unfair and that employers are “skelm” (thieves or cheat, dishonest). Billikopf, 2004quoted in Maraire, 2016, p14). Trust is not a new issue- many workers have had the experience of being left unemployed after years of loyal service by employers:

At XXX, we worked the whole night through and he closed up the next day and he disappeared…we have heard nothing from him and he didn’t pay us….’.(Maraire 2016, p14)

Workers seem to be generally, against incentive pay because they felt the system is designed to cheat and prefer the predictability and security that comes from the existing wage structure. The greatest fear is that under the incentive system they will be set up to fail and will not be able to earn enough money to maintain a sustainable livelihood especially during off peak or low productivity periods

“I don’t like it because what about the days I don’t produce, say if I work on a new style, so for 4-5 days a week I don’t produce my normal, what happens then? What am I gonna earn for the week?

Rather leave it like that…’.”(Maraire, 2016, p7)

3.2 Job security:

Both formal and informal workers generally had a very poor understanding of the industry’s regulatory environment and required brief explanations. Attitudes to the alternatives varied between the two groups. All workers were generally against performance-based pay because they distrusted employers whom they thought would cheat them. Most formal workers regarded informal work as a viable alternative for retrenched workers although they themselves could not imagine working in informal workshops. Both sets of workers were positive towards worker co-operatives, which appear to have the advantage of changing the working relationship from manager and worker to one where the workers are owners. All workers demonstrated overall awareness of the pressures facing the clothing industry, such as those caused by cheap Chinese imports. The evidence in this study is not sufficient to arrive at a set of conclusions regarding alternatives to wage-regulation by the Bargaining Council and Minister. Instead, the findings reveal areas of further research and create a foundation to understand better the various dynamics in the industry.  The issue of job security noting the high loss of jobs over the last 10-15 years is a heightened issue and has been addressed in earlier sections of the report. To summarize without belabouring the point; being globally uncompetitive, as a result of high wages, having better working conditions than most workers in the global market and having to compete with cheap imports and illegal dumping makes unemployment a threat workers both in the formal and informal garment industry are acutely aware of. Many have experience or have friends and family who have been retrenched or experienced factory closures from with or without notice. The external threat of workers in China and Bangladesh who will take your job is a noose hanging over their heads constantly. Maraire’s research done in 2016 demonstrates that while some of the precarious work practices and downward variation of labour conditions have in the last decade found itself into collective bargaining and social dialogue but job insecurity still remain.

3.3 Gender and women’s issues:

Like in many other parts of the world, South Africa’s garment workers are predominantly women, often single mothers and their family’s soul breadwinner. Wages in the garment sector can be very low, so these are usually vulnerable workers who are more than likely very poor with very few other employment opportunities available to them due to South Africa’s high unemployment rates. There are several minimum wages in South Africa and the unions are working to close wage gaps. A top wage for a skilled garment worker is around 950 Rand (US$67) per week. For a lower skilled worker it could be around 700 Rand (US$49) per week. SACTWU prioritizes centralized bargaining as the mechanism to achieve the best wage outcomes for workers. SACTWU negotiates in three national bargaining councils for the clothing, textile and leather sectors and the outcomes affect over 100,000 workers. In 2015 sectoral wage increases were above inflation. “Although the wages are mutually agreed in the bargaining councils, we would not call them living wages. We are working to develop the industry along decent lines and there are discussions on going towards a living wage.”

“Investment in the garment sector has traditionally favoured environments of weak labour standards enforcement, low wages and poor trade union organization. But changes in sourcing practices mean workers that share proximity to major market can, if united, take on issues as global supply chains become more regional in nature.”

“Garment workers in South Africa are predominantly women, often single mothers and their family’s soul breadwinner. SACTWU states that 70-80% of garment workers are union members, which places the union in a strong position to negotiate for good conditions. While the director of SACTWU’s research unit, Etienne Vlok, does not pretend factories are problem-free, but describes  them as good, safe workplaces”(Vlok,2015 )

“Wage levels and conditions of work are related. When a worker is given little value, she is treated as having little value” (Natrass et al 2013).

According to Kriel et al, low wages and precarious ad inhumane working conditions in the clothing factories in South Africa can be made to the Chines owned factories in Newcastle. According to Kriel et al they are generally paying the lowest wages in the country to clothing workers (usually far below the legal minimum) and are guilty of extensive and severe forms of worker abuse in the country, often akin to apartheid labour practices. “The death of Nokuthula Hlatswayo's children, twins who died, attest to this and is not the only abuse which has occurred, Workers testimony in affidavits describe being required to use off-cut rags for toilet paper, and of being strip searched by their managers. In one factory, in 2010 and 2011, workers were locked in the factory at night (their employer went home with the keys) and on two occasions fires started in the factory and workers were unable to escape. These kinds of worker abuses are part of the Newcastle low-cost employment model. SACTWU has been trying to unionise these workers and fight for improved working conditions and higher wages. Workers themselves have joined in SACTWU campaigns and marches and have even gone on strike for improved wages.

Late last year, for example, 3,000 clothing workers staged a one day strike against low wages in isiThebe. In Newcastle, in September last year, over 3,000 thousand clothing workers embarked on a two week strike in protest against their low wage levels. There can be little better evidence of the unhappiness of workers at non-compliant companies with their wages, and their support for the collective bargaining process. We have repeatedly invited Newcastle employers to join the Bargaining Council, as this is the forum in which wages and other key collective bargaining issues are taken up.(Kriel et al 2013)

3.4 Health and safety issues

The cost of living is high in South Africa, so unions try to compensate our members and offer additional services like health services for example,” says Eppel. Again while the occupation health and safety issues are now reflective in the collective bargaining agreement see Annexure 1, the global pressures exerted through trade liberalisation has not relented and while the production by units are covered by the collective bargaining agreement, the stresses that were prevalent in the sector in 2005 are still prevalent today. Drawing on Deedat and Van der Westhuizen’s report and van der Weshuisen, 2004 and 2012, the key health and safety issues were the stresses associated with the intensification of productivity, i.e. increasing the number of units per worker. While employers have been  curtailed from continuing the practice of prescribing the number units per worker, supervisors play a crucial role through victimisation,, harassment, insinuation of factory closures, short time and even retrenchments to propel increased productivity under duress.  As a result many workers develop hypertension, headaches, and back and shoulder pains resulting from the stress. Furthermore, while the Collective bargaining agreement specifies the break times, smoke breaks, going to the toilet or taking a body break outside of these times are severely frowned upon discouraged and workers are chastising and victimized on the shop-floor but the supervisor.

Being pregnant was also a major fear as many workers were not sure if they would have a job to come back to after maternity especially if they are young and fairly new. Taking breaks or stretch walks as the pregnancy progresses especially in the last few month received very little sympathy with workers being told that they are pregnant and do not have an illness that requires ‘special care.’ Sadly, it is largely women who are the targets of this harassment and are bullied by other women. In CMT operations, occupational health and safety hazards are greater as many of these “outfits’ operate from a room in a house or a garage. The air, ventilation and even the layout of the “shop-floor” can be quite cramped, without sufficient toilet facilities. Lighting in these premises especially for machinists would be a challenge especially in winter, when the weather is dull and gloomy and there is limited sunlight. The building structure is most likely ash brick which means that the building is exceptionally hot in summer with poor ventilation and no fans, and ice cold in the winter making working conditions unbearable.

3.5 Impacts on Workers and their families:

Zaid Philander, had the misfortune of experience life after members of his family lost jobs in the lates 1990’s and he describes that part of his life as comes from a family of garment as horrible. He is now the founder of sustainable accessories brand I Scream & Red. As workers in the garment factories his family members left an imprint, he first learned to sew as a little boy, when his feet could barely reach the sewing machine peddle. His sister devised a contraption from a crutch and a hosepipe that let him sew with his elbow. 20 years later the knowledge that “you don’t need to be of a certain height and have two arms and two legs to work a sewing machine” means that the majority of I Scream & Red’s employees are people with disabilities who work using adapted sewing machines.

One employee is Zama Sonjika, who had both his legs amputated after an accident, but who now runs his own sewing business. As a result of this hard experience this ethos rejects the global fashion model that prioritises cheap materials, immorally low wages and expanded distribution over product: 

“I believe that it is the worker who comes first, then your product is made and then everything else falls into place,” 

However, not all the stories of hardship end in this vein. Most of the workers in the clothing industry are single parents and the main breadwinner. Stress at work automatically translates into home stress and transferred onto the family. Job insecurity mean constant financial stress and in ability to plan or make financial commitments, and if made it comes with high risk and stress. Noting the levels of wages for workers in this sector relative to the steep increase in the cost of living in South Africa over the last two years has placed an additional burden on workers. The issue of irregular work hours, linked to short time, over-time and irregularity all come with its added burdens. Furthermore an of these women as mentioned above are single parents and are either the main breadwinner of families or a major contributor to joint household income.

A study conducted by Deedat and Van der Westhuisen in 2003 demonstrated just how devastating the loss of employment was for workers who lose their jobs. Many women were forced to re-establish relationships with ex –partners, especially where it involved children as they could no longer support their children. Their children were subjected to the harsh realities of poverty and many were denied access to school, permission to write exams or given their report cards since school fees were not paid. There were also incidences of family violence and abuse resulting from this stress. The report showed how in just two months women who were previously independent self -sufficient and economically empowered, spiralled into abject poverty. Moreover, as the key breadwinner or income contributor, the loss of employment had a multiplier effect mainly on children and the elders who were dependant these workers. Sadly, this consequence despite its adverse impact doesn’t feature in any statistic. It is critical to point out that while the research report referred to was published in 2003, recent work on the sector demonstrates that workers are still losing their jobs has and as the overall cost of living has increased for ordinary South African’s it is expected that the living conditions for workers losing their jobs currently, would deteriorate even faster.


Since the early 90’s the South African clothing sector has undergone major transformation. South Africa joined the WTO in 1995 and under the GATT subjected a once flourishing and protected sector, renowned and formidable on the continent to trade liberation. As a consequence the South African Clothing sector is a mere remnant of its former self. Apart from shrinking and relying on imports for clothing, the sector once a key employer, has shed thousands upon thousands of jobs of predominantly women workers. In response to this travesty, employers were either forced to close shop, relocate aspects of productions to Cut make and trim operations (CMT’s) or restructure their productions process and/or incorporate imports into aspects of the production.  SACTWU and its research unit developed several responses, initiatives and strategies based on research that SACTWU and other labour service organisations and researchers had undertaken on the sector. Part of this is evident in the current collective bargaining agreement which now substantially addresses some of the precarious working conditions –downward variation of labour standards that were prevalent in the sector. Factory closures became the order of the day as consumers chose to buy cheap imports from India China Brail and Bangladesh. Initially in order to save jobs and prevent factories from closing SACTWU negotiated short time, flexibility and at times even agreed to downward variations.

However, this did not save the jobs of South African workers who were expected to compete with the meagre wage of a bowl of rice a day – which is paid to a Chinese worker. The consumer was key to saving the sector and SACTWU embarked on a Buy South Africa Campaign.  Conscious efforts were made to ensure that consignments for T-shirts, bags etc. especially for conferences and sporting events were manufactured in South Africa and bore a made in South Africa or proudly South African label. Ordinary South Africans were rallied around this and workers were instrumental in getting neighbours friends and family to support the initiative. According to Vlok:

the union enters into agreements with major companies and institutions to support the local industry and this has been sunning since the early 2000’s. SACTWU campaign is to buy locally-produced textile products and appeals to consumers on how buying South African will affect the community. Through mass campaigns and fashion shows with factory workers to showcase the clothes they make, SACTWU engages with consumers to influence the choices they make. “Our message is received better and better. Consumers are increasingly receptive and positive, and the awareness of the difference they can make in their choices is growing. ”

SACTWU also targets public procurement and has influenced decision-making within government departments and state-owned companies who are encouraged to buy South African products when tendering for public procurement. Furthermore, retail companies are also deliberately targeted as part of the campaign and the trade union alerts local factories to public tenders. If a company is compliant with South African labour laws, SACTWU will pass on the information and encourage the company to submit a tender (Eppel 2015).

SACTWU also strategically too its returns on investments and bought several companies that were on the brink of closure and not only turned the company around but secured employment of their members. Through this revenue stream more factories were acquired and jobs retained. As part of its annual event SACTWU has Spring Queen event and also hosts a Fashion show which both encourages and promotes local products and local fashion and designers. SACTWU has also had the advantage of having their previous General Secretary become part of the presidency and his commitment to assisting this sector is evident. In June 2015, a South African clothing textile and leather tripartite seminar called by SACTWU, was held in Cape Town.

The event was held alongside the Cape Town Fashion Festival with the key address given by Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel ( the former SACTWU, GS) who affirmed government’s commitment to a green manufacturing sector. “Presentations at the seminar included supportive policy and initiatives from the government to maintain the sector and jobs as well as best practices by industry for greater efficiencies in production and energy and water consumption that have been achieved with state support. Fresh hope for the sector may also be offered through the model known as quick response. (Kriel, 2015). Advancing green industries means looking at energy efficiency and assisting companies to replace old machinery with more modern equipment.  Eppel says that changes in retail sourcing practices, resulting in demand driven supply chains are mostly good news for garment workers in Southern Africa:

“The model relies on close proximity of the producer to the retailer, with a maximum lead time of six weeks, so distant off shore suppliers are not an option. South Africa is well placed because industry support and a commitment from local producers has resulted in better standards and efficiencies, reducing lead times. South Africa has been seeking niche market development as a strategy to keep the sector alive and there is a strong tripartite commitment to maintaining existing production capacity and jobs. As a result many producers have already achieved international manufacturing standards and have quick response capabilities. “The garment supply chain has an important role to play and this tripartite seminar called by SACTWU created a very important space of debate and generation of proposals,” says Fernando Lopes, assistant general secretary IndustriALL.. Buy a garment with a Made in South Africa label and you can have peace of mind that the garment was made under good conditions,” Vlok says. “We want to use this as our competitive advantage.” Guardian sustainable business, Article 2015).

Another local initiative in keeping with this sentiment is mirrored at the luxury end of the industry. The Cape Town Fashion Council represents approximately 300 designers nationwide, and CEO Bryan Ramkilawan emphasises Cape Town’s production quality: “We produce in an ethical way, we are not producing in a sweatshop environment.”

This ethos could be key to ending the factory closures. Ramkilawan points out that many of the designers showing at Cape Town Fashion Week have relatives who worked in the now-closed factories. Being so embedded in the community means their aim is

to create something that isn’t competing directly with cheap Chinese exports, but which is locally produced to empower people and which incorporates elements of South African traditional culture and design”.

The growth of online shopping is helping business-minded people to fill fashion micro-markets in Johannesburg, says Rosie Spinks.

So along with the garment workers’ union and the Cape Town Fashion Council, there is another force driving change and environmental sustainability. Inspired by Cape Town’s place as World Design Capital 2014, and by the city’s Design Indabas, Cape Town’s young design community is devoted to design, sustainability and putting South Africa on the fashion map.


  • Research and advocacy initiates that highlight the impact trade liberalisation has had on garment works in South Africa and around the world must become a lobby point for advocacy
  • Organise a collective bargaining strategy that is along the value chain and uniform globally to counter the race to the bottom and the view that the Chinese worker is the enemy
  • Buy local campaign in all countries to support the local industry
  • Pressurise governments to invoke the anti- dumping clause against India China and Brazilat the WTO
  • Find the niche locally and globally
  • A half a loaf is never better than none- SACTWU learnt that by initially conceding to a downward variation and precarity did not stop the loss of jobs or stop company closures
  • Need all parties at the table- government, business and workers
  • Need a strategy to organise the s
  • SACTWU  should share its lessons beyond the borders or South Africa and take lessons from unions globally 


  1. Bennett, M.2003  Organizing in the Informal Economy: A Case Study of the Clothing Industry in South Africa. SEED WORKING PAPER No. 37:ILO
  2. Deedat, H. and Van der Westhuizen, C.2003: Gendered impact of GATT on women workers in the clothing industry: A cape town case study in Globalisation Volume 1: The Politics of Empire, Justice and the Life of Faith. ESSET/ESPRI 
  3. Ground-up, 2013: This is a debate between Professors Nicoli Nattrass and Jeremy Seekings and the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU)
  4. Guardian Sustainable Business 2015: A turnaround for South Africa’s textile industry? Feature article on the 04.12.2015:
  5. Labour Research Service 2016; Bargaining Monitor,  VOLUME 28 NO.180, May 2016
  6. Maraire, W2016: Cape Town Clothing Workers’ Attitudes Towards Key Aspects of and Alternatives to Regulation by the Bargaining Council, Centre for Social Science Research UCT.
  7. National Bargaining Council for Clothing and Manufacturing, 2014-2017:National Main Collective Agreement. Part F: Provisions for the Western Cape Region (Clothing)
  8. Van der Westhuizen, C.  2006: Globalisation and the South African Clothing Industry; A case study.
  9. Van der Westhuizen, C. 2012: Trade liberalization and the impact on the South African Clothing sector; paper for IGD.
  10. Annexure1 Detailed summary of working conditions for clothing workers employed in the South African Clothing and manufacturing sector National Medium Collective Bargaining Agreement for Clothing and manufacturing, 2014-17). 

The mean wage for the sector as per the recent collective bargaining agreement is R1239, 50 but from reviewing the tables for wages of the specific categories and grade of worker, the majority of worker in the clothing sector ear below this amount. (Drawn directly from the recent wage negotiation settlements of 2016).

  • Incentivised Wage Rates: As per the new collective bargaining agreement of 2014-17, the ‘new entry wage is now replaced with the following incentivised wage rates provisions, applicable to new employees only: 3.1  With effect 1 September 2012, new employees shall be paid a guaranteed wage of no less than 80% of the normal gazetted wage rate applicable to current employees, 
  • Set leader: In addition to the wages, any employee when called upon to perform the duties of a set leader shall receive and be paid an additional R4 per week whilst so employed.
  • Incremental dates:  An employer shall pay increases due to his employees during each calendar year and the collective barging agreement specifies both the period which specifies the calendar year as well as the week in which the increase comes into
  • Differential rates:  If an employee works for one hour the employee must be remunerated at the wage commensurate to the work being undertaken.
  • Casual Employees: A casual employee will be paid at the rate of no less than one fifth of the weekly wage prescribed for a labourer. Casual employees are paid in cash for each day worked, and are paid no later than the usual closing time of the establishment. Casual employees, work 25½weekly hours and 8½daily hours.
  • Shift Allowance, a normal shift worker shall, in respect of his/her shift hours worked in any week, be paid an additional 12,5% on such wage..
  • Annual Bonus:   Each employee shall be paid an annual bonus on the day of his employer’s annual closure in December of each year, equivalent to 2,0% of his annual basic prescribed wage A pro rata share thereof shall be paid to an employee who leaves employment before 31 December. 
  • Time of remuneration: The wages due to an employee, other than a normal shift worker or a casual employee, shall be paid in cash each Friday during working hours, but not later than 17h30, at the place and time specified in the notice posted up in the establishment.
  • Overtime: Any time which lapses after the normal hours of work and the time at which payment is deemed overtime. If a pay-day falls upon a public holiday, payment shall be made during working hours on the day preceding such holiday.
  • Salaried employees: Employees engaged upon a monthly basis shall be paid not later than the last day in each calendar month,
  • Termination of employment contract: where the contract of employment is terminated, all wages or other moneys due to the employee shall be paid immediately
  • Wage envelopes:  All wages are handed to employees in sealed envelopes which bear the name of the employee, his/her factory number, the name of the employer, the number of hours worked by the employee, his prescribed weekly wage rate, deductions made in terms of sub clause (4) and clause 12 (i.e. short-time), and the period in respect of which payment is made. (4) No deductions of any description, other than these can be made without the consent of the employee
  • Time records: Every employer must provide a , a semiautomatic time recording clock or other recording system which is approved by the Regional Chamber. Employees are required unless otherwise prevented by sickness or other unavoidable cause, to register every day (clock in and out).
  • Wage incentives, piece work and task work: Task-work is prohibited. If employers require a set number of units, then workers are entitled to a piece-work or incentive system which guides this form of production.
  • Employers may not employ workers on a piece-work basis other than on the terms agreed to in this agreement.  No employee may earn less than his or her the minimum wage to if he/she had been employed purely as a time-worker.
  • Proportion on ratio of employees: If an employer employs four or more cutters in any establishment one has to be employed as the head cutter at a wage prescribed wage. In the case where the employer is a limited liability company or a close corporation or is a partnership, no director or member or other officer of such company or close corporation or partnership shall be deemed to be an employee for ratio purposes.
  • Ordinary ours of work meals and intervals: All workers must work  normal 42½ hour week or 8½ hours on any day between 07h30 and 18h00.These exclude meal intervals, but include rest intervals, in any week from Monday to Friday. Employee who work beyond these hours are the exception and are normal shift workers or a twilight shift workers, boiler attendants, casual employees and watchmen or caretakers
  • normal shift worker: (i) 42½ hours, excluding meal intervals, but including rest intervals, in  any week from Sunday to Saturday, inclusive; or  nine hours on any day where two shifts are employed daily and eight hours on any day where three shifts are employed daily. 42½ hours on night shift, excluding meal intervals, but including rest intervals, in any week from Monday to Thursday (four-day week) are also accepted but through mutual agreement. Shift work requires 15 days notice and must be in consultation with the Trade Union. Boiler attendants, may work a 46 weekly hour and the daily hours of nine and a quarter. Watchmen or caretakers, have up to 60 weekly hours and 12daily hours (five-day week) or 10 hours (six-day week). Twilight shift worker, the daily are between 16h30 and 23h00 anytime from Monday to Friday.
  • Hours of work to be consecutive: All working hours in any day shall, must be consecutive.
  • Rest intervals: employees are entitled to) 15 minutes rest period in the morning and 10 minutes in the mid-afternoon. Employees engaged on work in conjunction with a conveyor apparatus : these employees shall be given suitable rest intervals during working hours, amounting in all to not less than 30 minutes daily.  The rest periods constitute working hours and no work may be done during this time
  • Meal intervals: Employees are entitled to meal interval of not less than one hour after 5 hours of work during which no work may be performed. Periods of work interrupted by intervals of less than one hour shall be deemed to be continuous but if the hours are longer than an hour it will constitute hours of work. An employer may conclude in agreement with employees shorten meal intervals to 30 minutes daily.
  • Transport arrangements: transportation of employees working on a twilight shift and the cost of transport from the work place to the home of employees is at the cost of the employer
  • Limitations of overtime: no employee may work more than 10 hours in any week or more than three hours on any day.
  • Notice of overtime: overtime in excess of one hour in any day requires notification and at times agreement from employees: Employers need to provide employees with an adequate meal overtime commences and is required to pay an allowance to enable the employee to obtain a meal before the overtime is due to commence. Overtime is voluntary and employees cannot be dismissed for not working overtime.
  • Days of rest: shift workers must have one full day of rest in any week
  • Short time: Employees need to received notification prior to the day on and from which they are expected to work short-time. Notices must be posted in a prominent and easily accessible to place for employees to receive the notification. Employees are entitled to at least four hours of remuneration at the ordinary rate of pay. Short-time. Most be negotiated with the trade union before implementation
  • Closed Shop: “No employer who is a member of an employers' organisation, shall continue to employ an employee who while being eligible for membership of the union, is not a member of the union or (b) who does not become a member of the trade union within a period of 90 days from such date. (c) The provisions of this clause shall apply to persons who are eligible for membership in terms of the constitution of the union or employers’ organisation or who have been refused membership of or expelled from the union or employers’organisations”