Key Points:

  • For ten years, the National Bargaining Council for the Clothing Manufacturing Industry has been used by the main union in the sector and some of the industry’s more capital-intensive firms to impose higher labour costs on labour-intensive employers in Newcastle, in KwaZulu-Natal.
  • The events described and analysed in a new CDE Focus by two UCT-based economists show how, under the guise of promoting ‘decent work’, an alliance of insiders can drive a process of structural adjustment that undermines labour-intensive employment, in the process, exporting South African jobs to lower-wage countries such as Lesotho and China.
  • Successive government plans emphasise the need for job creation in South Africa, yet neither the ‘New Growth Path’ (RSA, 2010) nor the ‘National Development Plan’ (RSA, 2011) has grasped the nettle of what it takes to allow labour-intensive growth.
  • The former emphasises ‘decent work’ (i.e. high-productivity, high-wage jobs) whilst the latter claims that South Africa’s manufacturing strength lies in capital-intensive industries, noting forlornly that ‘in a context of high unemployment, growth would ideally be sourced through expanded contribution of labour’ but that ‘to compete, the country’s cost structure requires an emphasis on productivity, products and logistics’ (2011: 126).
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