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2014 Footwear industry strike

6th Jun 2014 , S&V Footwear and Leather Goods

The sticking point in the wage negotiations in the footwear sector of the leather industry which led to the strike declared by the National Union of Leather & Allied Workers (NULAW) on Monday, June 2, appears to boil down mainly to 2 extra days’ annual bonus per year.

NULAW ‘s wage demand is 7.75% across the board, along with 3 other demands:

- An increase of 2 days’ paid holiday bonus in December. The current wage agreement is for 5 days’ bonus pay.

- A demand that employers financially assist workers to attain new skills where they are retrenched as a result of new technology.

- A demand that employers assist Customs to prevent “under-invoicing, counterfeit and illegal imports entering our country”.

The union dropped a demand for a day’s paid “family responsibility” leave per year.

It is unclear how widespread the strike has been. NULAW general secretary Ashley Benjamin said “95%” of the 164 footwear factories and CMT plants were on strike, while SA Footwear & Leather Industries Association (SAFLIA) director Jirka Vymetal said it appeared about 70% of SAFLIA’s 56 members were either on strike or had chosen to work short time because of a lack of orders. “However, the bigger factories are still operational,” he said.

SAFLIA has offered 7.75% across the board, with no additional paid leave, or 7.25% with 1 additional day’s bonus pay.

In the meantime, the minority union in the footwear sector, SACTWU, has given notice that it will go on strike from Monday, June 9, at 6.30. Its demands include a 10% wage increase.

Explaining NULAW’s insistence on the extra paid leave, Benjamin said the 5-day period “has been in place for 36 years”.

He said the union was not opposed to the new technology acquired by manufacturers in terms of the DTI/IDC Competitiveness Improvement Programme, and understood the need for factories to become globally competitive, but that workers made redundant by the technology had to be assisted to acquire new skills to find new careers. He said funds for that “already exist in the Technology Fund – employers won’t have to find the money themselves”.

He said 4 manufacturers had approached the union to reach plant level agreements, but that the union believed in collective bargaining.

Vymetal said SAFLIA had been taken by surprise by the strike, “given the amicability of the first round of negotiations, and the fact that the other sectors settled quickly”.

He said when negotiations resumed, NULAW had 7 demands. “Where we had been so close, we were now far apart.”

He said it was SAFLIA’s feedback from workers that they preferred extra money to extra leave.

He said SAFLIA felt NULAW and SACTWU had been giving out very conflicting information, to their members “and as a result their members are very confused”.

This is the first strike in the footwear sector for 6 years.

The National Bargaining Council of the Leather Industry is divided into 3 sectors. In May the tanning sector agreed to a 7% wage increase plus 1 day’s annual bonus pay for non-auto tanneries. The general goods & handbag sector agreed to a 7.5% increase plus an additional 1 day’s annual bonus, from 5 to 6 days.




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