As the Department of Labour, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) and Cosatu appear to have reached an agreement with Agri Wes-Cape to suspend the protest action in the Hex River Valley, the SA Table Grape Industry (Sati) has moved ahead with its proposal to establish a development plan for the industry.
Johan van Niekerk, the chairman of Sati, which is an umbrella body focusing on market access, as well as research and development for the industry, said that the inaugural meeting held on Tuesday set out the terms of reference for the development plan.
“We hope to have an outline document ready by the end of the week; this document will be expanded on during February so that we can present it to the president by the end of February,” Van Niekerk said.
He said that this week’s meeting was attended by representatives of the major fruit companies and exporters, as well as labour consultants.
Also in attendance was Mohammed Karaan, an agri-scientist from Stellenbosch University, who is one of the commissioners involved in drawing up the National Development Plan (NDP).
Karaan has been asked to look at parallels between the industry’s objectives and the proposals set out by the NDP.
The NDP refers to the need to “pick and support commercial agriculture sectors and regions that have the highest potential for growth and employment”.
It identified table grapes as a labour-intensive sector with high growth potential.
“Total exports of fresh grapes increased from 37.2 million cartons (of 4.5kg) in 2000 to 51 million cartons in 2010. If this output can be repeated over the next 10 years, it holds significant potential to expand the industry.
“The greatest challenge in penetrating new markets remains market access through trade negotiations and sanitary and phytosanitary agreements. As with the citrus industry, South Africa needs to remain globally competitive to create and maintain market share.”
Van Niekerk said that the Department of Trade and Industry had helped the sector to establish new markets and noted that any development plan for the sector would have to involve the backing of the government. He referred to the need to improve the rail, road and port infrastructure that was required to expand international markets.
Van Niekerk said although it had not been possible to include farmers and workers at this stage, they had been kept informed and had provided input.
Meanwhile, in what appears to be an encouraging development, the Department of Labour, the CCMA, Cosatu and Agri Wes-Cape met yesterday to secure a deal on certain conditions that could ensure a return to work by farmworkers.
One of the difficulties in resolving the strike has been the reluctance of Agri Wes-Cape and Agri SA to participate in negotiations, apparently because they believe that they do not have a mandate to reach an agreement that will be binding on farmers across the country.
However, labour lawyers said yesterday that in terms of the Labour Relations Act any deal reached could be restricted to the participating parties.
If no agreement is reached the farmers risk a R150 daily wage being imposed across the country by the Department of Labour at the end of February.
In a statement issued yesterday the CCMA said: “Following a meeting between the parties this morning, Agri Wes-Cape undertook to try and get a mandate to allow it to publicly announce its support for localised collective bargaining, and an undertaking that farmers will not discipline striking workers upon their return to work for their participation in the strike.”
Cosatu called late yesterday for a one-week suspension of the protests while Agri SA sought buy-in from farmers for town-to-town negotiations.
One large farmer said seasonal workers were returning to work in most regions except Stofland near De Doorns.