Vic Warrington is an entrepreneurial success story: He runs a profitable furniture manufacturing company that started in a garage 23 years ago, and now has factories in Cape Town and Joburg. He employs nine staff, and the business affords him a pretty nice life.
So in the midst of escalating strikes demanding wage increases, Vic began thinking about his workers, their wages and their lives. “Even though it was the industry norm, I couldn’t live with myself knowing they were earning less than R1 000 a week,” he says.
So in August of 2012, he sat down with his staff to get a better idea of how they live week by week. What he found was unsettling: though they were paid in line with the Furniture Bargaining Council’s stipulations, Vic found some workers were in debt with loan sharks, while others had many dependents and wages of R650 to R850 a week just weren’t cutting it.
“I couldn’t stand back and do nothing,” says Vic. “Some of these guys have worked for me a long time and it was important to know what their commitments were beyond work.”
A radical move
Vic then made a move that’s caused a stir: He hiked up his workers’ wages by a staggering 50%, bumping them up to R1 400 a week. He also paid the loan sharks so that his workers now have manageable debt with him instead of the sharks. “I’ve had to cut back on my own expenses and luxuries and we’ve also made cutbacks in the business, but we still make a profit. It’s manageable,” Vic explains.
After calling in to 567 Cape Talk and 702 Talk Radio to explain his decision, the responses have been mixed: “Some businesses are uncomfortable with the precedent we’ve set,” he says, but his actions also saw him named a Lead SA Hero in November last year for taking action and changing the status quo.
Spirits and productivity are high
Since the wage hike, Vic’s workers are happier and more productive than ever. “They’re able to pay off their debts and live up to their responsibilities. On the advice of our workers we’ve decided not to hire any new casual staff for the season, they’ve said they’re going to put their shoulders to the wheel – and they’ve really upped their game.” They’ve upped it so much that Vic’s productivity is up 153% compared to November 2011.
“Now I can sleep well and the guys have got a spring in their step. I challenge people out there to find out how their workers are living on what they earn. I cut down my lifestyle, but feel so much better for it.” In March, Vic plans to continue doing good by starting a training college for woodwork apprenticeships. “This will take semi-skilled workers and turn them into skilled workers with a certificate of competency to handle equipment,” he adds.
Founder: Vic Warrington
Company: Bench & Patio World
By the numbers:
9 – The number of staff Vic employs
R700 -The approved average weekly wage
50% – Employee wage increase
153% – Productivity increase since wage hike