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Farmworker negotiations resume

Nov 29 2012 12:19 Sapa

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Johannesburg - Negotiations over farmworker wages and working conditions will resume on Thursday ahead of a planned protest next week, Agri-SA said.

Agri-SA labour relations manager Elize van der Westhuizen said the employer body would meet unions and labour department officials in Cape Town at noon.

The farmworkers' strike coalition had invited Agri-SA to meet in Worcester at 2pm to discuss arrangements for the strike next Tuesday.

Van der Westhuizen said the organisation had received the request but would be unable to attend because of the formal plenary in Cape Town, and would organise an alternative date.

The coalition's Mario Wanza announced on Thursday that workers would resume their strike next week in various rural areas in the Western Cape.

He said workers would gather at central points in their communities.

The plan was to meet farmers in the spirit of "peace and friendship" on the day, to discuss a way forward.
Wanza, however, could not guarantee peace.

"I don't think we as a coalition can claim to say everything will go well. When a protest happens, anything is possible. There is extreme anger, with workers saying: 'We have nothing left to lose, we are treated like slaves. Let's go all the way'."

It was agreed that the strike would go on indefinitely until demands were met.

The coalition represents organisations including Women on Farms, Sikhula Sonke, the Black Association of the Wine and Spirit Industry, the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) and non-unionised workers in Zolani, Bonnievale, De Doorns, Worcester, Robertson and Nkubela.

Table grape harvesters started protesting in De Doorns at the start of the month for wages of R150 per day and improved living conditions. Most earned between R69 and R75 a day.

The protests soon spread to 15 other towns, leading to violence and two deaths.

Workers suspended their strike until December 4 on condition that the employment condition commission (ECC) look at the sectoral determination for agriculture.

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant announced this week that it was impossible to meet the deadline.

She said the sectoral determination was put in place in March this year and by law, could only be reviewed again in 12 months.

Wanza said government had to take responsibility for the deadline and farmers should be willing to co-operate.

"Surely you can give everyone a bonus. Nothing in law prevents a farmer from giving workers a weekly bonus. If you have farmworkers living on your land for 20 years, why not give [them] a title deed to that piece of land?"

Van der Westhuizen said the sentiment of farmers matched that of Oliphant.

"We agree with the minister and are prepared to agree within the legal framework. The problem is affordability. A farmer can't promise if they can't afford," she said."

Farmers had been encouraged to revert back to workers and negotiate higher wages where possible.

No formal offer had yet been put on the bargaining table.

Van der Westhuizen said that it seemed a deadlock was being portrayed in the media, with unions running to newspapers to talk about violence that could erupt.

She said unions had not mentioned employing violent measures in formal negotiations.
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