Shortage Of Machinists Could Hinder Exports

Garment factory workers make good money from overtime, says council president: Towler
29 Sep 2020 12:15
Shortage Of Machinists Could Hinder Exports
The Fiji Textile, Clothing and Footwear Industry Council warned that the shortage in machinists could prompt delays in the industry as performance expects to normalise following the initial challenges of the COVID-19 crisis.

The clothing and textile industry has noted a shortage of machinists, as exports pick up.

President of the Textile, Clothing, Footwear Industry Council of Fiji, and chairman of the Fiji Exports Council, Mike Towler, yesterday warned that the shortage could lead to setbacks.

He said lifejacket exports from his factory – Performance Flotation Development Fiji Ltd – had improved against the challenges of COVID-19.

“People are idle due to the lockdowns so they go boating – in markets such as Australia and New Zealand,” he said while speaking about the surge in production at his factory.

The export demand in textile and clothing items for schools, the corporate sector and some parts of essential services had also increased, Mr Towler said.

However, employers have had to monitor labour costs with employees in parts of the sector working six days a week, he said.


Better than last year

The increase in exported production of textile, clothing and footwear during September, was an annual occurrence, he said.

“It’s doing reasonably well given the downturn in the industry earlier this year,” Mr Towler said.

“Our figures for September are much better than corresponding data for last year.”

Employees of the sector are now working six days a week, and working overtime to make up for the shortage of machinists, he said.

“Most of my employees are working 60 hours a week now – which is not unusual at this time of the year,” Mr Towler said.

“It’s good money for them.

“We don’t know how long this will continue  – two to three months or maybe longer.”


The struggle

Mr Towler said some members of the council were struggling to find machinists, as many were believed to have returned to their respective villages to await the reopening of the tourism sector.

“Tourism pays more than the garment sector,” he said.

“Everyone is advertising, but there seems to be none available to work in Suva.

“We just don’t know how to address it at the moment.

“We can’t just pick up new ones and train them,  as it takes six months to a year to do that and the surge in demand is now”



The council is in discussions with the Government over concerns about the reduction in import tariffs for garments, Mr Towler said.

“We wouldn’t want to see tourists arriving in Fiji and buying Bula shirts made in Asia,” he said.

Mr Towler said the local market had contracted because of lower spending.

“Factories in Ba and Rakiraki have closed because of lower demand, but also lower tariffs on imports which make them less competitive.”

Mark One Apparel managing director Mark Halabe said the company’s training room was being prepared for interested applicants to take up the machinists’ position.

He said the shortage was owed to rent-related issues which people were unable to meet as part of the impact of COVID-19.

“Some of them just don’t want to work, some have moved – there’s a host of reasons,” Mr Halabe said.



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