Uniforms add to the new year cash pinch

2008-01-10 00:00

January is the hardest month financially for many households, and is especially bad for parents with children in school.

It appears that this year’s return to school will be no different, with parents needing to dig deep into their pockets as school uniform prices rise further.

Experts might not have agreed on how dramatic the increase is, but many were united in the view that lack of competition remains the major reason for the increase.

The president of the SA Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (Sactwu), Themba Khumalo, said there is no justification for the price increase in school uniforms as it the poor who make up most of the market.

"Our view is straightforward and has always been the same. We are against price increases because it is the poor that suffer. We cannot tolerate people who are using the poor to enrich themselves."

Khumalo believes this capitalist attitude would be nipped in the bud if the government created better opportunities for communities to source work from local people.

"Why not centralise big work areas around the country, run by parents, and subsidise the material or electricity? It would certainly stop the self-enrichers who are trying to make a buck out of the poor. It would create employment, while creating quality at a cheaper price. But more importantly, it would minimise the level of imports, because it is all good and well to stop China, but what about other countries like India?"

The chairman of the KZN Parents’ Association, Sayed Rajack, said although there have not been complaints from parents, there is no doubt that there have been marginal increases in prices for school uniforms and stationery.

He said they usually advise parents to buy school uniforms in the later part of the year, in order to ease into the new year.

"Things like stationery, school fees and specialised uniforms are a tremendous burden for parents. Why not buy in winter?"

But if you haven’t, Rajack said the solution would be to shop around, learn to negotiate and find the best garment at the lowest price.

He reiterated the need for parents to be fully involved in their children’s education.

"Parents need to realise that they have an input in the budget and they can reduce it. They can bring costs down by coming together and buying in bulk. They can also provide healthy competition by not buying from a certain outlet but rather sub-contracting to a major manufacturer. It would benefit the school and the quantities are vast enough to warrant that."

The chairman of the National Consumer Forum, Thami Bolani, believes increased uniform prices have been dwarfed by the petrol price increase and predicted bread hike early next week.

"It appears to be a non-issue where consumers are concerned, and we have not received any complaints."

According to Bolani, suppliers usually quote an increase in material prices as the main reason for raising their prices.

He also believes prices can be best controlled by good competition.

"The lack of competition works against consumers. If there is no competition, prices will always be up. What we want to do this year is put pressure on the government support agencies. There is about R1 billion that is allocated for business support, but we don’t see the results. They need to do a better job than before in helping small business to penetrate the market," said Bolani.

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