Cape Town - Protest action on farms during the heart of the picking season will severely hurt the sustainability of farms and could result in job losses, the farmers’ union federation Asuf said on Friday.
The Agri-sector Unity Forum said that ongoing labour unrest in the Western Cape's fruit producing regions will impact negatively on production, the ability to serve local and international markets and the viability of farms.
"The knock-on effects of higher food prices and retrenchment of workers will follow as enterprises are forced to either or close down," said Asuf in a statement.
The umbrella body, who represents all major agricultural unions, said the mechanisation or venture into less labour intensive industries would inevitably lead to greater unemployment.
The organisation also threw its weight behind wage reforms proposed by the government. However, it called on farmers to pay higher wages than the minimum wage where possible.
On Friday, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant called on farmers to step up to the negotiation table to end the violent strike.
"I am not convinced that there is a serious attempt by farmers to negotiate," said Oliphant in a statement.
"I would also like to call on the farmers to engage their workers on the best way forward. At the end of the day, the main thing is negotiation between employer and employee."
Some striking farmworkers welcomed talks between unions and farm bosses.
The individual farmers agreed to a meeting organised by Cape Orchards Company (COC) chairperson Gerhard de Kock.
"We are glad they [farmers] are willing to negotiate," 29-year old farmworker Johannes Links told Sapa as he stood on the side of the N1 highway in De Doorns on Friday.
On Thursday, police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse thousands of strikers who pelted them with stones on the N1 in De Doorns.
The strikers, mostly seasonal workers, are demanding a daily wage increase to R150 from R69.
The protests, which began on August 27 last year, was called off on December 4 and resumed on Wednesday.