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Farmworkers' strike set to continue

Nov 29 2012 11:02 Sapa
Robertson farm protest

(Picture: Johan Cloete, News24 User)

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Cape Town - Western Cape farmworkers are set to resume their strike over wages and living conditions next week, their coalition said on Thursday.

"On December 4, people will not be going to work. We are encouraging people to shut down farming towns for the day," activist Mario Wanza said on behalf of the strike coalition.

"What will happen is communities will be moving towards a central point in the community where they will gather, and in some areas they will go through the town."

He said the plan was to meet farmers in the spirit of "peace and friendship" on the day, to discuss a way forward.

A letter was sent to Agri-SA on Wednesday asking them to meet the coalition to discuss the arrangements for that day.

Wanza said they were still waiting for a reply.

"On December 4, we want to talk about where we are at as people, meaning our country is torn apart. We are fighting with each other. Isn't there another way forward? There must be a common point of reference."

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.

Both sides have been in negotiation since the strike was suspended, with talks set to resume later on Thursday.

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?"

Wanza condemned calls for violence during the strike, saying the planned protest would "steer away from that rhetoric".

He, 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.

Wanza conceded that there was no unity within the coalition, referring to seemingly conflicting statements sent out by Cosatu's Western Cape secretary Tony Ehrenreich.

He said Ehrenreich seemed to be commenting on behalf of the coalition when he had not even attended the coalition's meetings with workers.

"You're absolutely right. I don't think there is a union of people working together. Different views are coming across.

"Our fear is that people want to project violence so it keeps conflict alive, and we hold a different view: that the Freedom Charter is what we have been struggling for."

Ehrenreich was not immediately available for comment.

strikes  |  farms  |  wage demands



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