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Union: Oliphant insensitive

Nov 28 2012 18:01

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Cape Town - It is insensitive of Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant to use legal technicalities to override farmworkers' concerns, their union said on Wednesday.

"She should have asked why stakeholders are engaging despite such a law or its interpretation, instead of unilaterally making a pronouncement," Food and Allied Workers' Union general secretary Katishi Masemola said.

He said her "unilateral stance" would only harden farmers' attitudes and strengthen the resolve by farmworkers to strike again on December 4.

Oliphant announced on Tuesday that the sectoral determination for farmworkers could only be reviewed in April next year, and not by the given deadline of December 4.

She said the Basic Conditions of Employment Act only allowed a review 12 months after promulgation.

Sixteen Western Cape towns were hit by violent protests this month over farming wages and working conditions. Two people died and there was extensive damage to property.

The protests started with table grape harvesters in De Doorns, who were calling for wages of R150 a day. Most earn 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.

Representatives of both sides have been in negotiations since the strike was suspended.

Masemola called on Oliphant to exercise leadership in the negotiations.

"The central cause of the current situation emanates from legislation residing right on top of her desk, and needs to be approached differently and not with technicalities," he said.

The union said it could not guarantee the workers' reaction to Oliphant's announcement.

It called for calm and peace during labour demonstrations.

Western Cape premier Helen Zille said on Wednesday that the army should be deployed to rural areas on the day of the deadline to keep the peace.

In a letter to Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, she said that some organisations were distributing pamphlets calling for a "day of action and mobilisation" on December 4.

"We must do everything we can to prevent the further outbreak of violence on farms in the province," she said.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi called for a new wage settlement. He said nothing was stopping farmers from agreeing to a wage increase while the ECC considered a review of minimum wages.

Farm employers were not co-operating and some were using private security companies, he said.

"There is a danger of the situation getting out of everyone's control," Vavi said.

mildred oliphant  |  de doorns  |  farmworkers  |  strike
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