About 6,000 workers in the South African poultry industry are at risk of losing their jobs as cheap chicken imports from the European Union, Brazil and the United States continue flooding the local market.

This week, workers affiliated to the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) took to the streets of Pietermaritzburg, the capital of the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, and marched to the provincial legislature.

Rainbow Chicken, the second biggest operator of poultry farms in South Africa, is set to retrench 1,250 of its workers, with its Managing Director, Piet Scott, blaming the unfair and stringent red tape from the European Union (EU) and other countries to make it difficult for locally produced chicken to find markets in these countries.

“The situation is more than dire. We are cutting half of production at Hammarsdale (farm) and half of all the workers, which is why we are marching with our staff,” he said during the march Tuesday.

“We are not allowed to export any chicken to Brazil, to North America, Europe, the whole of the EU, Australia or to Russia because they all have their technical ways of preventing us from exporting. Some of their technical reasons are because we have bird flu in our ostrich which has nothing to do with chicken.”

The FAWU has accused the government of dragging its feet in dealing with the impact of cheap chicken imports. Union Secretary-General Katishi Masemola says it is high time the government reviews trade agreements for these imports.

“We are concerned that our government is moving at a snail’s pace. In fact, our government needs to treat the situation as a kind of a state of emergency and convene a meeting with them, ourselves and industry players … because we believe we can find ways of defending the jobs that are in the poultry sector. But with every day passing, the situation is getting even more serious and dire.”


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