Cape Town - A large number of Western Cape farmworkers were
back at work on Thursday, on the first day after strike action was suspended,
agriculture MEC Gerrit van Rensburg said.
"Our understanding is that most farmworkers are back at
work, with isolated incidents of striking workers," said his spokesman
Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) Western Cape secretary
Tony Ehrenreich, who announced a week-long suspension of the strike on
Wednesday, mirrored this information.
"All indications received are that people have gone
back. It's not 100% as not every worker has been informed of the suspension,
but there is a move to return to work."
He said that even workers in De Doorns, the epicentre of the
strike, were contemplating returning, in the spirit of negotiation.
Farmworkers went on strike last year to demand that their
daily wage be increased from R69 to R150, and that a coherent land reform programme
be implemented. The strike was suspended in December, but resumed last
Wednesday in various towns in the province.
According to Cosatu, the strike would be resumed next
Wednesday if Agri SA stopped honouring commitments to "local-level"
agreements and did not agree to stop the victimisation of workers.
Contrary to Cosatu's announcement, the Black Association of
the Wine and Spirit Industry (Bawsi) said the strike was still on.
"The strike will continue across the province until
there is an agreement for better wages and worker protection," said Nosey
Pieterse, Bawsi president and general secretary of the Building and Allied
Workers' Union of SA.
"Workers who go back do so at a huge risk. They are
going back to vindictive farmers, more dismissals, victimisation and
intimidation; the same old life, the same old money."
Pieterse said he represented thousands of striking workers
who did not belong to unions.
The agriculture department estimated the number of permanent
and seasonal workers in the province at around 200 000.
Of these, only 5% were unionised, Ehrenreich said.
Despite this figure, he said Cosatu had more influence in
"Cosatu is a national organisation with incredible
influence and power, with alarming strength. This is not a competition though.
We want to work with smaller organisations. Bawsi is a small organisation with
Agri SA has repeatedly called for individual farmers to
negotiate with their workers, which is apparently taking place.
Western Cape police spokesperson Andre Traut said no arrests
or reports of violence linked to the protest were recorded overnight or on