Mooirivier's textile factory inferno

2011-01-08 00:00

SECTIONS of the Tai Yuen Textile factory in Mooi River that were closed down by the Labour Department due to unsafe working conditions were on fire yesterday morning amid allegations of arson.

Management of the factory claimed someone had deliberately started the fire as they said, “under normal circumstances the fire would not have started on its own.”

The blaze, which firefighters fought for around 11 hours, occurred during a labour dispute involving almost 300 of the factory’s employees.

Since January 3 workers have been locked out after they protested the dismissal of two of the employees who had written a letter to the factory’s head office in Tai Pei protesting the working conditions.

They claimed the factory management makes them work 12 hours a day for R6,40 per hour.

They also say they work in a dangerous environment without a uniform or protective gear.

“Some of us work in the spinning part of the factory (the part that was burned) where we process cotton and yet we are not provided with any dust masks. The moment we enter the floor, dust is all over us.”

Their plight was acknowledged by a Labour Department official, who deemed their working environment unsafe.

“When the official came down here he saw the way we were dressed (in our casual clothes) and asked if we were just on a tour of the factory. When we told him we worked there he was shocked,” said the employees.

The official apparently removed the workers and shut down that section of the factory.

The fire started in this same section yesterday morning and burned through piles of cotton awaiting processing.

The manager of the factory, who declined to be named, said he was certain that someone had started the conflagration.

“Under normal circumstances, there is no way that the fire would start on its own.

“I believe someone started the fire.”

This was echoed by Irvin Lawrence, a lawyer speaking on behalf of Tai Yuen Factory.

“We believe the fire was arson because people were seen entering the factory and moments later, the fire started.”

He said he was not certain how much the workers were paid but said they were paid according to the rate agreed by the bargaining council.

Spokesperson for the Labour Department Jay Anand said they closed down and served prohibition notices on sections of the factory in mid-December when their inspection revealed several health and safety violations.

Fourteen firefighters, including some from Howick and Ashburton fire stations fought the inferno yesterday.

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