Johannesburg - Cosatu on Wednesday said it was waging a campaign to support vulnerable, underpaid farmworkers.
The trade union federation wanted to recruit the workers into the Food and Allied Workers Union and assist them in campaigning for a national minimum monthly wage of R2 420, said Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven.
This came following allegations that National Council of Provinces chairwoman Thandi Modise neglected to pay a farmworker whom she had employed to take care of her livestock.
Last week, the man said he was forced to abandon the former premier's starving livestock as he, his wife and one-year-old child were also starving after not receiving any payment from Modise.
“This is not an isolated case, but typical of the way thousands of farm workers and dwellers are super-exploited and abused,” Craven said in a statement.
“Many of the employers involved are white farm owners who think they still live in the days of apartheid, and that workers can be hired and fired at will, evicted from their homes and paid poverty wages.”
Craven said the Congress of the SA Trade Union's (Cosatu) North West branch had received several reports of such cases.
Commenting on Modise's case, Craven said: “If these allegations are proved to be true (it) will be shocking to find that one of the worst employers is a very senior ANC and government leader.
“As well as pursuing the case of cruelty to animals, the department of labour must conduct a thorough investigation into the wages and working conditions of the farm workers, and if the employer is found to be non-compliant, the law must take its course,” Craven said.
He called for a probe into whether Modise adhered to occupational and health safety regulations.
Police and officials of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) went to Modise's farm two weeks ago where they found dead and dying animals, including pigs, sheep, geese, goats and ducks.
The pigs had begun eating the corpses of the dead pigs.
It appeared the animals had been without water and food for around two weeks. There were no farmworkers on the property, no electricity, and the water pumps were broken.
Some of the animals who survived had to be put down.
In her defence, Modise claimed her farm manager had left to tend to a family emergency.
She claimed she had visited the farm every two weeks.
Craven said while the trade union federation supported expansion of opportunities for black female farmers, they too had to comply with the laws and treat their workers fairly.
“Progressive political leaders however should never get themselves embroiled in money-making ventures like farming,” he said.