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Farmworkers' strike to be peaceful

Nov 30 2012 11:26 Sapa

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Cape Town - Western Cape farmworkers have agreed to peacefully conduct next week's strike over labour issues, their coalition said on Friday.

Farmworkers' Strike Coalition spokesperson Mario Wanza said they met police officials on Thursday, and both agreed to share and co-ordinate information on plans for the day.

Police acknowledged their right to strike from Tuesday, but said police could not enter into agreements with any party.

Wanza said there would be no violence or intimidation by protesters and police, everyone would operate in the "spirit of peace and friendship", and no road closures would be undertaken by workers and farmers.

He said Agri-SA had agreed to meet at the weekend, to make further arrangements.

"Farm owners are discouraged from using private security companies to protect farms as it contributes towards instability," he said.

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 conditions commission (ECC) review 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.

The coalition announced that it would pick up the protest next week and carry on indefinitely.

Both sides have been in negotiation since the strike was suspended.

Talks resumed on Thursday at the labour department in Cape Town, under the eye of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration.

Agri-SA, which represented farmers, said the talks revolved around options and processes for resolving the unrest in the short-term and seeking consensus on wages and social benefits in the long-term.

"The intention was to seek a solution that would be acceptable to both farmers and farmworkers and not undermine long-term sustainability of the agricultural sector and food security," the body said.

It was agreed that the Universities of Pretoria and Stellenbosch would conduct an independent economic modelling exercise under the auspices of the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy.

"(This) will provide insight into the implications on the profitability and sustainability of agricultural subsectors under different wage level scenarios."

The information was expected within the next two weeks.

Agri-SA said farmers accepted the minimum wage would increase and proposed a joint assessment of the nature and extent of "in-kind" benefits for workers.

They also promised to refrain from violence during the strike and called on workers to do the same.

"This process should not be about scoring points, but finding a sustainable solution. It is therefore imperative that all parties commit themselves to the process as announced by the labour minister."

On Thursday, Western Cape police commissioner Arno Lamoer said all security agencies in the province were on standby and ready to deal with any eventuality.

The provincial government had set up a hotline for people to report unrest or plans to cause violence or destruction.

The 24-hour hotline, on 0860-142-142, could also be called to find out which areas and roads were affected by protests.


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