Unions urge governments to protect textile industry

Trade unions on Tuesday urged southern African governments to protect the clothing, textile and footwear industries threatened by a flood of cheap Chinese imports.

“We recognise that some governments in Africa have started to address the problem of China, but we take note that many governments are failing to take immediate and urgent action to do the same and we now urge African governments to act together to save the industry,” eight trade unions said in a joint statement.

The trade unions met recently in Cape Town to reflect on the state of the clothing, textile and footwear industry in southern Africa.

“In Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa, export growth has declined as a result of China’s dominance in the United States market.

“This has resulted in 13 000 job losses in Lesotho, while in Swaziland 10 factories have closed and 12 000 jobs were lost,” the statement, issued by the Lesotho Clothing and Allied Workers Union, said.

Chinese imports into the South African market have placed a tremendous strain on local manufacturers’ ability to sustain commercially viable enterprises resulting in the loss of 55 000 jobs in the industry since the surge of Chines imports started in 2003, the unions said.

In Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Zambia, there had been a sharp rise in the level of casual workers.

Since the Multifibre Agreement expired in Swaziland, a loss in export orders has seen the introduction of a wage freeze.

“Increasingly the trade patterns between the African continent and China are becoming colonial in character with African countries exporting raw materials to China and importing finished products from China.

The trade unions urged African governments to introduce safeguards against Chinese imports as a matter of urgency and to work with trade unions to modernise African clothing, textile and footwear industries, and to involve trade unions and employer organisations in government discussions on trade and industrial policy.

“We draw attention to the basis of Chinese export competitiveness which is driven by government subsidies, an artificially weak currency, the absence of independent trade unions, poor working conditions and low wages,” the unions said.

The trade unions noted the efforts of the European Union, United States and other countries to save their industries and protect jobs by entering into agreements with China to limit the flood of imports. - Sapa

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