Bargaining holds key to end farm strike

Jan 16 2013 15:51
Striking farm workers demand that their daily wage

Farmworkers in the province had been protesting for higher wages. (AFP)

Cape Town - Localised collective bargaining in Western Cape agriculture holds the key to ending the farmworkers' strike, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) said on Wednesday.

CCMA director Nerine Kahn said leaders of the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) and other unions agreed that Agri Wes-Cape publicly announcing its support for such bargaining would help secure an end to the dispute.

Leaders also said it would be a sign of good faith not to discipline striking workers.

The CCMA conveyed this to Agri Wes-Cape on Wednesday, in a meeting with the labour department to negotiate a possible resolution to the strike, which was suspended in December, but resumed on Wednesday last week in various towns.

Farmworkers were demanding their daily wage be increased from R69 to R150, and that a coherent land reform programme be implemented.

Kahn said that Agri Wes-Cape undertook to try and get a mandate on these requests on Wednesday.

"We hope to convince organised agriculture that we should follow the Clanwilliam example and look for local-level solutions, rather than the more lengthy process of finding agreement across the entire agricultural sector," she said.

"This could be achieved while the labour department finalises the process of developing a new sectoral wage determination, which should come into effect in about six weeks' time, effective 1st March 2013."

On Tuesday, Cosatu announced that a wage deal of R105 a day was brokered with a "significant amount" of farmers in Clanwilliam.

Provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich said this was a model agreement that could be used in other towns to possibly end the strike, which had been violent at times.

He said Cosatu would encourage workers to suspend the strike if Agri SA acknowledged the Clanwilliam agreement, the space provided for it in law and give an undertaking to ensure no disciplinary action was taken against striking workers.

A deadline of 13:00 on Wednesday was given.

Both Agri SA and provincial entity Agri Wes-Kaap said on Wednesday morning they had not been contacted by Cosatu regarding a plan to extend the apparent wage deal.

Agri Wes-Kaap spokesperson Porschia Adams said that to her knowledge, a wage deal was agreed to by one farmer who owned a number of farms, rather than multiple farmers.

Agri SA president Johannes Möller later released a statement saying no agricultural wage deal had yet been made in the country.

He said: "An offer made by a single [Clanwilliam] farmer, who is apparently highly dependent on the services of a large number of temporary workers during peak harvest time, was welcomed by Cosatu and portrayed by them as a collective deal with Clanwilliam farmers which could serve as a trend-setter for wider application."

He said this offer was apparently not supported or mandated as a collective agreement by other farm leaders and their organisations in the area.

Agri SA had repeatedly called for individual farmers to negotiate with their workers at farm level, which was apparently taking place.

Ehrenreich was not immediately available to comment.

farmworker protests  |  wages



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