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Cosatu: Farmers dividing workers

Nov 20 2012 17:59 Sapa

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Johannesburg - Farm owners in the Western Cape are trying to divide workers and provoke xenophobia in the province, Cosatu and Passop said on Tuesday.

"We are shocked that the farm owners in De Doorns... have today [Tuesday] made serious attempts to create anarchy, xenophobia and violent divisions among the community of workers," they said in a joint statement.

People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (Passop) and the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) said farm owners and management had continuously made claims that non-workers were responsible for the strike.

They said they had proved it was the farm owners who were responsible for trying to create violent chaos.

Workers returned to their posts on Tuesday under an agreement between their representatives, the government, representatives of farm bosses and other stakeholders.

Protests about wages and living conditions started in De Doorns at the beginning of November and spread to 15 other towns in the Western Cape.

The protests started with table grape harvesters, who were calling for wages of R150 a day. Most earned between R69 and R75 a day.

On Thursday, the workers agreed to suspend the strike until December 4 on condition that the sectoral determination for agriculture be looked at by the Employment Condition Commission (ECC).

The labour department announced on Tuesday that farm sector public hearings would start within the next 48-hours in the Western Cape.

Labour standards acting director Titus Mtsweni said once the hearings had been concluded, the ECC, which advised the minister on wages and other conditions of employment, would compile a document and make recommendations.

Cosatu and Passop accused Western Cape Premier Helen Zille of fuelling tensions in the region through her comments on the social networking site Twitter.

"We were shocked when the premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille, on Twitter, openly blamed tensions between Sotho and Zimbabweans for the strike that swept across the Western Cape, starting in De Doorns," they said.

They said the premier had claimed certain immigrants were undocumented and had stated that this was one of the causes of the strike.

"This all appears to be part of a calculated attempt to discredit the strike and/or possibly incite tensions between local immigrants and local labour."

Responding to the accusations, Zille's spokesperson Zak Mbhele said the premier had stated there were complex dynamics in De Doorns and that these were also rooted in the migrant labour system.

He said a rift between seasonal workers from Lesotho and Zimbabwe existed because the latter were mostly legalised due to the recent amnesty.

"Farmers have been very heavily fined for employing 'illegal' labour so they no longer do so," Mbhele said.

"This has resulted in many people not having jobs, with very serious consequences."

Earlier this month, Zille wrote on Twitter: "Complex dynamics in De Doorns. Lesotho seasonal workers no longer employed, but Zim workers legally employed due to amnesty. Huge tension."

Cosatu and Passop called on Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor to give immigrant farm workers in the Western Cape amnesty for the next three months.

"Now is too volatile a time to be implementing the immigration act, and farm owners who have previously employed undocumented workers for years are now dividing workers using documentation as an excuse," they said.

Home affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa said Pandor would respond only once Cosatu and Passop had made a formal request.
passop  |  cosatu  |  helen zille  |  de doorns  |  farms  |  farmworkers  |  strike
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