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Textile players admit to not offering competitive wages

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MATSAPHA – Local textile and apparel companies argue that it is difficult to offer workers competitive wages because their competitive advantage had diminished over the years.

This transpired during a round table discussion session organised by the American Embassy in collaboration with the Swaziland Investment Promotion Authority (SIPA) held at Esibayeni Lodge on Friday.

The discussion session gave textile companies an opportunity to engage visiting United States Deputy Trade Representative Ambassador Demetrios Marantis and Assistant US Trade Representative for Africa Florizelle Liser on some of the challenges they face.

Vick Royce from Fashion International Swaziland acknowledged that local textile companies did not offer competitive wages at the moment.
“There has been a lot of negativity in the industry and this has mainly been fuelled by the fact that most people do not understand it. People need to understand where we are right now in terms of competitiveness with other countries. As textile companies, we would certainly like to pay workers competitive wages but unfortunately, we cannot offer this at the moment because our competitiveness has diminished over the years,” said Royce.

He added; “The wages we offer at the moment only go a short distance in supporting households. Nevertheless, manufacturers do need to stick to the stipulated wages, as required by the law and not offer lesser rates.”

Asked on why he chose Swaziland as an investment option, Royce said; “It is because Swaziland is a peaceful country and one can live in a safe and relaxed environment. I am South African and I have been living in Swaziland for three-and-a-half years and I am quite happy here. The Swazi label is very good to work with and the Swazis we

employ really appreciate their jobs.”
The round table discussion session was preceded by a tour of Far East Textiles (PTY) Ltd where Ambassador Demetrios Marantis and Assistant US Trade Representative for Africa Florizelle Liser got a chance to see how garments are made at the only Swazi-owned textile factory in the country.

During the factory tour, SIPA Director of Domestic Investment Sabelo Mabuza said although the local textile industry was seen as not offering competitive wages, the wages offered locally were higher than other countries such as Lesotho.
“The Swazi workforce is different from the South African workforce. Swaziland has a literacy rate of 87 per cent, which means Swazi workers are able to understand and take instructions. Other countries are seen as more competitive than Swaziland because their competitiveness levels are higher than ours, for instance, South Africa. As much as South Africa has more financial muscle than us, we believe there is still a competitive element in Swaziland. Yes, South Africa offers higher wages than we do but we are still relatively higher than Lesotho,” he said.

Asked on how the country would ensure that it remains competitive, SIPA Director of Investor Facilitation and After Care Mandla Nkambule said; “We have several strategies in place, for instance, we have a benchmarking exercise that was initiated by TechnoServe. It will indicate where we are as a country when compared to other countries and we are expecting a report in March.”
The issue of wages offered by local textile companies has been raised in different forums and some wondered how the investors contributed towards the country’s economy when they employed the largest number of Swazis who fell far below the taxable bracket.

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