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Farmworkers' deadline won't be met

Nov 27 2012 18:15 Sapa

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Cape Town - Farmworkers should refrain from violence until the sectoral determination is reviewed in April, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant said on Tuesday.

"I've indicated that violence doesn't work for the employee or the employers," she told reporters in Pretoria.

"I've encouraged workers that if they go on strike it is their right, but when it comes to violence then it really indicates that it's no longer [about] the issue of wages."

She said it was "practically impossible" to review the determination by the December 4 this year, considering the limitations of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.

The act allowed a review of the determination only 12 months after promulgation. The latest sectoral determination was put in place in March and would have remained until February 2015.

Oliphant warned that those who turned to violence to make a statement would be reprimanded and dealt with by the police.

She said she could not stand in the path of the justice system by calling for charges to be dropped on the basis of legitimate labour issues.

Sixteen Western Cape towns were hit by violent protests this month over farming wages and working conditions, resulting in two deaths and extensive damage to property.

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

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

The ECC advises Oliphant on wages and other conditions of employment.

As part of the strike suspension agreement, Oliphant published her intention to cancel the current sectoral determination, which sets minimum monthly wages at R1 503.90.

The department also published a notice of an investigation into the farm sector on November 15, inviting interested parties to make written representations before the end of the month.

Public hearings for workers and their employers began last week in the Western Cape and were set to end in the Eastern Cape and Gauteng on December 13.

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

In a meeting on Thursday, it was agreed that issues would be sorted out based on whether they were short-term or long-term. In the same meeting, two representatives from each side were appointed to map out the negotiation process.

The representatives were in discussions with an unnamed academic institution on Tuesday to provide research on the economic situation in the sector.

Negotiations would resume on Thursday.

Oliphant was asked whether workers would hold off on further protests until April.

"I can't guarantee that one. I can't say there will be a strike or what'll be going on," she said.

"What should happen is that people must allow processes to go through, to say this is what we've worked for, and we've reached consensus."

mildred oliphant  |  de doorns  |  farmworkers  |  strike


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