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Jaff and Co. closes doors

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“They led me to believe that they are trying to save the company, but that also seems like it was a lie,”

SURPRISED: The locked doors of the Jaff and Co. factory in Elliot Street. Picture: Danie van der Lith

THE RECESSION hit home yesterday when the Jaff and Co. clothing factory, which has been part of Kimberley’s business landscape for more than 70 years, closed its doors, leaving nearly 300 workers unemployed.

It emerged on Friday that specialist financial product supplier, Sasfin, had taken the decision to liquidate the company, which has had a factory in Kimberley since 1946.

In a SMS sent out to the nearly 300 workers on the weekend, the Jaff and Co. factory manager, Arif Motlekar, told employees that Sasfin had on Friday instructed all monthly staff to vacate the building and that it (Sasfin) had sent a security team to take possession of the keys to the factory.

“They informed me that they will be putting the monthly staff on short time as well. We enquired about salaries, wages, leave pay and bonuses for workers but Sasfin could not give us an answer.

“Later, we heard that the company will be liquidated. This was a major betrayal and deception on the part of Sasfin, as they promised me that salaries, leave pay and bonuses were secured.

“They led me to believe that they are trying to save the company, but that also seems like it was a lie,” Motlekar stated in the SMS.

He added that union representatives went to Sasfin to demand answers but were “put out of the building”.

“After threatening to sell machines to pay wages, Sasfin agreed to pay outstanding wages, including the paid public holidays. We are currently fighting to secure UIF, leave pay and bonuses,” Motlekar went on to say in the SMS.

In the SMS it was also stated that no staff would be allowed to enter the building, as Sasfin had “taken control” and there would thus be no one at the factory on Monday morning (yesterday).

Motlekar concluded by saying that while Sasfin may have decided to close the company, “they would still be liable for a list of benefits that must be paid out”.

Yesterday, disgruntled workers gathered in front of the closed doors of the Jaff and Co. factory in Elliot Street, where the provincial organiser of the Southern Africa Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (Sactwu), Johannes Ramolahloane, addressed them.

He said that the notice to liquidate the company had come “completely unexpectedly” and would have dire consequences for the nearly 300 workers, who will now be left unemployed.

Ramolahloane said that the issue was that the union was only told on Friday about the decision to liquidate, while they were not formally informed by Sasfin about its intention.

“We, as a union, are now looking at alternatives to liquidation and we will fight as hard as we can to protect the jobs on the line. We simply can’t afford to lose 300 jobs, especially considering the national level of unemployment,” Ramolahloane said.

He added that Jaff and Co. mostly relied on corporate clothing tenders as a source of income but these tenders had been “drying up” in recent years due to the current strained economic climate.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) in the Northern Cape also expressed shock and dismay following the “heartless action” taken by Jaff & Co.

“We view this in a very serious light and vow not to allow this callous employer to do as it pleases them. It is immoral for any business to ambush the employees with news of closure and termination of employment in the morning when everyone has woken up in high spirits, eager to work in order to earn wages for their survival and that of their families,” Cosatu provincial secretary, Orapeleng Moraladi, said.

“This employer has displayed a spiteful and a don’t-care attitude, which confirms how delinquent some employers can become regardless of how much contribution the employees have brought to their companies over the years. Some employees have worked there for over 20 years and even more than that, but here they are now facing a very desolate future.

“It is deplorable to tell employees that, as a business owner, you never knew that your business is not doing well until the day you decide to close down. The employer should have consulted in advance and disclosed all information required to all stakeholders in order to map a way forward and to prepare everyone psychologically for any eventuality.

“We are going to work hand in glove with our affiliate Saccawu to ensure that the workers are not taken for a ride and that this employer instead focuses on keeping the business open in order to save the jobs of over 300 employees.

“The termination of 300 employees equates to further impoverishment of about 1 500 people who depend on the wages from these employers. We cannot allow this to happen, especially in a city and Province that are plagued by such a high levels of unemployment,” Moraladi added.

During 1946, the Johannesburg-based Jaff and Co. started renting a small premises in Kimberley and a few machinists were employed.

The small factory was successful, but an offer to purchase land to build a larger factory was rejected by the local municipality, on the grounds that Kimberley was a mining town and land was reserved for mining purposes. The company was permitted to continue to operate but the municipality was not interested in developing a clothing manufacturing industry.

However, about a year later the Kimberley municipality agreed to sell land to the company and a new factory was built and occupation was taken up in 1950. By 1964 the Kimberley factory had been enlarged twice and employed approximately 500 workers.