For the vast majority of people, the trauma of retrenchment is not short-lived. After the protest marches, the excitement of intense media interest, robust social and political commentary across all media platforms, after fake promises and false hopes comes the awful silence. The expanding emptiness that is filled each day with anxiety, fear and dread as the grip of poverty, alienation and isolation gets tighter and tighter. Unemployment bites and bites hard.
To give a voice to the thousands of chicken industry workers who are in this boat, FairPlay is launching the Cry for Action campaign.
Over the past six years, few industries, if any, have been as badly affected by retrenchment, closures and liquidations as has the poultry industry. It is not only central to SA’s food security, it is also a leading agricultural employer with 110,000 direct employees and as many as 20,000 indirect employees.
The South African poultry industry has been proven by the world-renowned agricultural research institute at Wageningen University in the Netherlands to be one of the most competitive in the world. It is ranked number six and is ahead of all European countries.
So, when we talk about closures and liquidations, it is not because of uncompetitiveness due to bad management, ineptitude, poor strategic vision or laziness — it is because dumping is making it virtually impossible to survive. In the long run, it is impossible to survive when all the rules of fair competition have been set aside and kicked into the long grass. And that suits the dumpers because no local survivors means a market with no competition.
What the dumpers conveniently forget is that after an industry contracts – once the production facilities are closed and the farms sold, the workers laid off – there is no way back. They don’t simply restart if the circumstances improve slightly. So while some dumping defenders have tried to deflect attention from the harm caused by dumping by hailing the expected bumper maize crop as the solution to the chicken crisis, one season’s cheaper feed will lamentably not make a lasting difference.
Maize crops are cyclical. Droughts are cyclical. Farmers – agriculture as a whole – have always worked around what cannot be controlled and are able to stay afloat, even thrive, because bad years are eventually followed by good and the fat years insulate for the lean years. This natural, organic cycle, which has allowed people to make a living off the land since the first farmer planted a seed and built a shelter for his livestock is rudely disrupted by dumping.
Dumping has long been considered a predatory trade practice and the Anti-Dumping Agreement was defined in the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1994, which led to the creation of the World Trade Organisation. Dumping was defined as the introduction of a product into the commerce of another country at less than its normal value.
That is exactly what is happening here with Europe getting rid of its unwanted chicken in SA, and the suffering it is causing must be stopped. Don’t be fooled by the current measure of relief felt because bird flu in Europe has temporarily halted most imports. We can be sure that the EU will return to its unrestrained dumping the minute it gets the all clear.
This is why FairPlay, the activist organisation set up at the end of 2016 to take a stand and begin the fight-back against illegal dumping in the South African market is launching the new Cry for Action campaign.
It calls directly on President Jacob Zuma and Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies to intervene and put an immediate stop to this abhorrent practice that is destroying individuals, families, entire communities and businesses that are key to SA’s economic and social wellbeing.
The Cry for Action campaign aims to ensure that those people who have lost their jobs will not also lose their voices, their self-esteem, their value, importance and significance to their families, communities and to society. They will not be set aside, abandoned, forgotten or made anonymous in the miserable pit of unemployment statistics.
Consider the “collateral damage” of making one person redundant. It is estimated that for every person employed in the chicken industry there are as many as 10 family dependants — ranging from young children to grandparents. That single salary provides shelter, food, light, heat, schooling and healthcare for many. Dumping not only kills jobs, it destroys families and undermines entire communities.
Since 2011, it is estimated that as many as 6,000 jobs have been lost in the chicken industry. That means anything up to 60,000 people – a sports stadium such as Ellis Park packed to capacity – have been directly affected. This does not even consider the effect on businesses in the local community.
Many of these people now find themselves in the appalling category of the “long-term unemployed”, a circumstance that according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development “causes significant mental and material stress”. As if we didn’t know.
FairPlay founder Francois Baird says he firmly believes that when community groups get together in a social coalition of this kind with a single purpose, then ‘the most extraordinary things can happen’
The more mental and material stress that is introduced to a community, the more destabilised it becomes. The knock-on effects of dumping are absolutely horrendous. There are some things in society that are difficult to change and some that will take a long time to change. Dumping is not one of them.
So this Cry for Action appeal to Zuma and Davies is a cry from the heart of people who are suffering because of an activity that is unlawful, preventable, abhorrent.
The effect so far, as catalogued by the South African Poultry Association includes businesses that were liquidated, sold to larger companies such as Astral and RCL, and abattoirs gone out of business.
This has ended the livelihood of about 6,000 workers, and affected as many as 60,000 dependants.
Cry for Action is also the harbinger of another FairPlay initiative that is hoped will reach into the heart of communities affected by retrenchments to mitigate against the effect of unemployment and help to generate a robust spirit of entrepreneurship.
The social coalition summit, to be held in co-operation with the University of Johannesburg in August, will bring together civil society organisations, community groups, activist groups, retrenched workers, trade unions and other organisations with the objective of identifying practical initiatives that might be undertaken to mitigate against the brutal effect of unemployment on retrenched workers.
FairPlay founder Francois Baird says he firmly believes that when community groups get together in a social coalition of this kind with a single purpose, then “the most extraordinary things can happen”.
Cohesion of purpose brings out the best talents and the most innovative solutions to intractable problems, Baird says.
“That said, we are very hopeful that Zuma and Davies will respond urgently to our Cry for Action and in so doing, bring a momentum of hope to the many people who are feeling abandoned.
“SA has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world and [the] latest figures show it just keeps rising. Dumping is adding to the millions of South Africans already unemployed, creating jobs in places like the EU, while killing jobs in SA,” he says.
“As too many South Africans and communities know, the loss of a job may mean life-long unemployment because the jobs are not available or the queues are too long.
“Dumping imports misery and SA simply cannot allow it to continue. Zuma and Davies can stop it, firmly and immediately, and we call on them to do just that,” he says.
By Paul Dillon
• Dillon is a FairPlay activist.
First published in Business Day on 09 June 2017