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Minister: Farm strikes suspended

Nov 14 2012 18:44 Sapa

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Cape Town - Western Cape farmworkers will suspend their protests over wages and living conditions for two weeks, Acting Labour Minister Angie Motshekga said on Wednesday.

She said the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) had consulted workers and it was agreed they would return to work on Thursday and desist from violence and vandalism.

The suspension was on condition that the sectoral determination for agriculture be looked at by the Employment Condition Commission next Wednesday.

This meant the R70 a day minimum wage for farmworkers would be cancelled and renegotiated.

Motshekga was addressing reporters in Cape Town, on behalf of Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant, who was out of the country.

Grape harvesters in the Hex River Valley have been protesting for more than a week about their wages, demanding R150 a day.

Most earn between R69 and R75 a day, with R80 being the highest and only offer from farmers so far.

Sixteen towns in the province have been affected by the protest action, which included blocked roads and burning tyres.

Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson described the labour action as a service delivery strike, and said workers in De Doorns, for instance, wanted housing and basic services.

She condemned those who said the matter was purely political.

"This is not a political matter. This an initiative of workers themselves. This is indeed a service delivery strike."

The labour department expressed condolences to the family of a farmworker killed in Wolseley on Wednesday morning.

"We are calling for an end to the violence and wish to appeal to the farmworkers to give us a chance to attend to all their demands."

Western Cape police confirmed that a man was killed and five people were injured during protests in Wolseley.

Lt-Col Andre Traut said the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) would investigate.

"The man died as a result of police action, but we cannot give more details of the incident," he said.

"Reports of a farmer being killed by a mob of farmworkers in the province are not true. Those allegations are false."

Ipid spokesperson Moses Dlamini said an investigator was on his way to the scene where the protester was shot to get more details.

"I can confirm that one person was killed. However we only have a report that three were injured. An investigator is on his way to gather more details."

Joemat-Pettersson said her state security and police counterparts, Siyabonga Cwele and Nathi Mthethwa, would "engage further in the matter".

"To give information now [on the death] would be very clumsy and irresponsible," she said.

A notice indicating the intent to call all interested parties to comment on the sectoral determination would be published by next Friday.

"I would also like to call on all the parties that have been involved in the current negotiations in the farms in the Western Cape to intensify their effort to resolve the current impasse," Oliphant said in a statement.

"The negotiations and the resolution should be pursued over and above the other efforts like re-looking at the sectoral determination, which process may take a while to conclude."

Joemat-Pettersson said the sectoral determination could only be revised once a year.

A revisal would affect all farmworkers across the country, regardless of produce.
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