Chinese dump local labour for imported workers

2012-09-01 11:08

Chinese workers are increasingly taking jobs away from unemployed South Africans – with the government’s blessing – a study by City Press shows.

City Press recently visited the Rayal ceramics factory now being constructed in Ekandustria outside Bronkhorstspruit in Gauteng.

According to Rayal spokesman John Zhu, about 30 to 40 Chinese supervisors are being used there during the construction phase.

South African construction workers are also being used, but only as day labourers.

When the factory is in operation, up to 140 Chinese workers and about 300 local workers will be employed there, Zhu said.

Accommodation for the Chinese workers is under construction.

However, an industry expert who visited the factory says this 42 000m2 plant is not likely to require more than 140 workers, which leads one to suspect that the plant will be run mostly by Chinese workers.

Several similar ceramics factories in South Africa have been built and operated by local workers and, according to the industry expert, no special skills are needed that are not available locally.

All the material for the factory has also been imported from China. “Everything you see, except the cement and sand, comes from China,” Zhu said.

Kobus de Beer of the South African Institute of Steel Construction (SAISC) said about 1 200 tons of structural steel would be used for this structure.

To produce this would take a medium-sized factory with about 210 employees, three months of work, while employing another 150 people for three months during construction.

If one included the supporting operations to produce the final product, such as the transport of products, the production of the steel would provide employment for 930 South Africans for three months.

“Each of those workers feeds several mouths,” De Beer said.

Similar calculations can be done for the other building material not purchased locally.

De Beer says such projects are exempted from import duty of 15% and, in this case, the government was losing out on R3.6 million on the structural steel alone.

Furthermore, it seems as if the Chinese workers are being paid in China, so communities where such projects are

being built do not benefit from the positive ripple effect of wages paid.

The Rayal factory is strongly reminiscent of the Sephaku cement factory being built outside Lichtenburg by the state-controlled Chinese Sinoma group, also with the government’s approval.

City Press reported previously that only a quarter of the workforce, which will total as many as 1 500, will be South Africans.

Once again, almost all the building material is being imported, and Sinoma even imported its own cranes and construction equipment to do the work.

De Beer says the SAISC tried to stop the Sephaku project in this form in 2008 and later again in 2010, without success.

In both cases, the department of trade and industry appears to have played a major role in recruiting foreign investment.

Zhu said the department recruited the Rayal investment during a trade show in China.

“We wanted to set up a textiles factory at first, but the department said the local textiles industry is protected and we should rather consider building material.”

The departments of labour and of home affairs also had to give approval, but it seems they simply followed the recommendations of industry and commerce.

There appears to be little consultation with organised labour and local industry organisations, and no one knows how many similar projects have already been approved and are under way.

Trade union Solidarity deputy head Dirk Herman said the union was concerned about whether labour legislation was being complied with on these projects and has been asking for regular inspections.

He also said the government is the biggest saboteur of its own plans to create jobs.

“Unemployment in our country is high and, according to our research, every South African who is employed supports eight others.

“The other side of the coin is that every foreigner who takes work away from a South African is taking the food from the mouths of eight South Africans,” he said.

“The government should take strict action against such practices.

“We are concerned that foreigners are entering the country through a system that should actually be protecting South Africans,” Herman said.

The department of trade and industry has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

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