23,000 Jobs Gone With the Wind
In a space of two decades 23,000 workers in Ghana's textile sector have lost their jobs because Ghana's clothing industry has fallen victim to a flood of cheap Asian textiles. Now the sector that used to employ around 25,000 workers employs a mere 2000 workers countrywide.
Textile industry watchers argue that if trade policies had been favourable to local industries, the alarming loss of jobs and livelihoods would have been minimal. Cheap textiles from countries such as China have flooded Ghana's market which has seriously injured the local industry. Stakeholders say the onus is on the government to act quickly to save the textile industry which has the potential to create new jobs.
Globally, there has been a decline in the performance of the textile sector. During a meeting last week in Durban, South Africa union representatives of clothing, textile, footwear and leather workers from ten African countries, including Ghana it came to light that Africa has lost over 250,000 clothing workers over the past few years.
Countries worse affected are Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria and Swaziland. The rest include Mauritius, Zambia, Madagascar, Namibia, Kenya, Malawi and Tanzania.
As clothing makers around the world adjust to brave new ways to save their local industries, Ghana's textile industry remains one of the biggest casualties of trade liberalization.
Ghana Textile Print, (GTP), which used to hold its own against multinational textile companies, is currently finding it hard to stand on its feet and recently laid off 60 workers as part of measures to resuscitate its operations. Juapong Textiles has totally collapsed.
GTP is not the only textile industry hit by trade liberation. GTP is arguably the country's flagship textile producer and is prided with producing some of the most traditional prints in Ghana.
Unfortunately, some popular traditional GTP prints, such as Afi bi esan', 'entwa woho nkyere me', 'subura', among others are now being pirated in India, China and South Korea and smuggled into Ghana to undercut GTP.
In interviews with several importers of cheap textile they said the cost of labour in the textile industry in Ghana is high, compared to China for instance which produces reduced costs besides making enormous efforts at restructuring its textile sector.
Consequently, they can afford to flood them cheaply here.
The textile sector in Ghana has in recent years come under intense pressure on issues of wages and conditions of service. This has led to an increase in underpayment of workers, engaging workers on casual bases and contract work in the textile industries.
At a recent Trade Union Conference on the Future of the African Textiles and Clothing Industries in Cape Town, South Africa, representatives called on governments to institute comprehensive trade and industrial policies to restructure the industry.
The union representatives were from Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Madagascar, Mauritius, Namibia, Tanzania, Nigeria, Lesotho and South Africa.
They noted that African governments do not have a common approach to issues of trade and investment in textiles and clothing.
"African countries should not compete against each other to attract Foreign Direct Investment through a race to the bottom. Instead, the governments should build a social floor which includes respect for core labour standards", said Thabo Tshabalala, Regional Secretary of the International Textiles, Garment and Leather Workers Federation, (ITGLWF) .
The union representatives stated the need for coordinated action by African governments to institute temporary safeguard measures against Chinese imports of textiles.
The unionists further stressed the need to address the issue of building the capacity of workers so as to increase productivity and efficiency.
In their opinion, governments must ensure that measures are put in place minimize the impact of trade in imported second-hand clothing while at the same time ensuring that Africa's domestic industries are able to provide affordable clothing to the continents populace.
The trade unionists proposed a summit in Africa on the future of the textile, clothing and footwear industries with greater participation by trade unions, investors and governments, in order to develop commitments for a common action plan towards the growth of the industry.