The Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU) has agreed to lower the wages for new workers as part of efforts to revitalise the country's clothing manufacturing sector.

SACTWU general secretary Andre Kriel told just-style today (10 October) that it will allow companies to hire new employees at 70% of the rate current workers in urban areas are paid and 80% of the rate that rural workers are currently paid.

He said the agreement is linked to a requirement that employers must grow employment levels in compliant companies by 15% over the next two and a half years. "This equates to a job creation commitment of at least 5,000 new jobs in an industry which has seen no new employment of any significance over the last two decades," he said.

The lower rate will be limited to workers who are new to the industry or have been outside the sector for more than three years. Current employees will be protected, and they will see their wages rise by 6.5% in urban areas and 9.2% in rural areas over the period.

Kriel said that the Union agreed to the move to "breathe new life" into the industry, in particular, "employment growth at lower costs of production and an increase in production output, without prejudicing current employees".

He was quick to say that the lower salaries for the new workers won't revitalise the industry on its own. "The lower entry wage is part of an extensive package of support measures which have been developed over the past two years," he said. He added the Union will now search for other innovative ideas so that it stays ahead of the curve.

The new agreement was signed on 5 October between the SACTWU and eight clothing employer organisations, and is part of the 2011/12 industry contract.

Following the announcement of the new agreement, Cape Town manufacturer Peter Blond said it plans to add some 100 new workers by 23 December this year. It currently employs just under 400 workers.