Main Page - Latest News

Chinese bosses declare Africans too lazy for a minimum wage.


From Canadian Globe and Mail…

Raymond grew up in China, found it too fiercely competitive, and came to Africa in search of easier opportunities. Now he owns a clothing factory, toils long hours and makes a steady profit – but only because he violates the law by paying below the minimum wage.

“Here the people work too slowly,” he complains. “Even if they could get more money, they would rather drink beer or something.”

Raymond is one of dozens of Chinese entrepreneurs who own clothing factories in Newcastle, an industrial town in an impoverished rural region of South Africa. With unemployment at nearly 60 per cent in the surrounding region, the factories have a steady supply of workers – but they’ve been condemned by unions for ignoring the wage laws.

As African countries increasingly become the target of a wave of Chinese investment, they face a dilemma: should they accept the money and the entrepreneurs in every case, even if the jobs are poorly paid and illegal? Are any jobs better than no jobs at all? How many concessions should be made in exchange for Chinese investment?

Across the continent, Chinese businesses have invested billions of dollars in African economies, creating hope for the future. But they’ve also clashed with workers in a number of countries. In the most notorious case, two Chinese mine managers in Zambia were charged with attempted murder after they allegedly opened fire on workers who were protesting against low wages and poor working conditions. Eleven workers were injured.

Raymond sees it as a culture clash between Chinese entrepreneurs he thinks are hard-working and South African workers he considers lazy. He routinely works a gruelling schedule from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., and sometimes all night when he has an urgent shipment to prepare. Many of the Chinese factory owners in Newcastle work such long hours that they sleep in a room at the back of their factory to save time.

The profits that Raymond reaps at his factory have a simple purpose: to pay for the education of his son, who is studying at a university in the United States and wants to be a doctor. When his son graduates and begins earning money, Raymond will finally retire.

“Chinese people think that tomorrow will be better,” he says. “If you don’t work hard, you won’t make money. But here in South Africa, the people think that tomorrow you could die, so you should live today. It’s a different way of thinking.”