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South Africa’s Footwear Manufacturing Workers Enter Second Week of Strike Over Wages

A nationwide strike over wages is halting South Africa’s footwear manufacturing industry.

Members of the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU) and National Union of Leather and Allied Workers (NILAW) entered their second week on strike Wednesday.

Workers are demanding a 9 percent wage increase. However, South African Footwear and Leather Association’s (SAFLIA) final offer is a 6.25% wage increase.

In an interview with Independent Online (IOL), the unions’ general secretaries, Andre Kriel and Ashley Benjamin, confirmed that the unions have received settlement offers from individual employers, but they will not return to work until an agreement is made at the national level.

“We have advised them that we are not interested in settling at plant level. We require one national agreement that will cover the whole of the footwear industry. Until then, the strike will continue,” they said.

According to SAFLIA, an entry-level general worker in South Africa’s footwear sector earns 533.06 South African Rand per week, or $40. An employee in the tanning sector would earn roughly 212.54 South African Rand per week, or $16.

Given the country’s declining footwear sales, SAFLIA chairperson Noel Whitehead said the 6.25% increase is a fair offer and still above inflation for this year. “Our sector pays the highest wage rates compared to other associated sectors,” he told OIL.

And anything higher wouldn’t be sustainable, he added. Most South African footwear manufactures, Whitehead said, are working short-time due to depressed sales. Total manufacturing declined 17 percent in 2017.

“This reduction in 2017 is the first year since 2011 that we had negative production in the footwear industry. All indications are that the 2018 production numbers will reduce further, which is placing a massive strain on the industry as a whole,” Whitehead said.

Both sides have been accused of unruly conduct. IndustriALL Global Union reported that some employers are resorting to intimidation, which the unions have rejected as “illegal, provocative and not conducive to the promotion of sound industrial relations.”

The claim came after Allie Kramer, a chargehand at Bagshaw Footwear factory in Port Elizabeth, reportedly fired live ammunition at close range to where the striker workers were gathered. The unions have since called for Kramer’s suspension.

Police were also called to Eddels Shoe factory in Pietermaritzburg to control striking workers who were throwing eggs at those inside the factory’s premise.