Prospects for an end to the three-week long farm workers strike in the Western Cape faded at the weekend as representatives of the workers vowed to press ahead with their demand for an increase in the daily wage to R150.
The strike has gripped grape and other fruit-producing areas of De Doorns, Ceres and Robertson, and by yesterday there had been at least two deaths as a result of the industrial action.
A farmer was also injured when he went to collect his bakkie close to the scene of the protests on Wednesday.
“There is no hope that the strike will end soon. Our fear is that the illegal strike will spread to other areas of the country if a solution is not found immediately,” Mlungiseleli Ndongeni, the provincial secretary the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu), said yesterday.
A major hurdle to finding a solution to the strike was that employers wanted to negotiate on an individual basis, while the farm workers were calling for a centralised negotiation as they were in solidarity with each other, Ndongeni said.
A coalition of farm worker representatives from the areas affected by the strike said yesterday they had given the government until December 4 to institute the minimum daily wage of R150 or face intensified protest action.
“Farm workers are not going to calm down and reconcile to the same old slavery conditions. There will be change,” the coalition said.
Most farm workers earned between R69 and R75 a day, according to media reports. Negotiations between unions and farm bosses are expected to take place on Thursday.
The farm workers strike has added another twist to a wave of industrial action that South Africa has experienced since August, when platinum miners at Lonmin in Rustenburg went on a strike that culminated in the killing of 34 strikers by the police.
The labour unrest quickly spread to the gold, coal and iron ore mining sectors.
The Du Toit Group, one of the leading fresh vegetable and fruit producers based in Ceres, said on Friday that it might consider mechanising operations after losing R30 million during the strike.
The company, which employs about 9 000 workers, had some of its equipment torched by protesters last week.
The company expected to incur losses of R10m a day if production did not resume as soon as tomorrow, Pieter Du Toit, the managing director for the group’s marketing division, said yesterday.