End in sight to farm strike after deal

Sapa and Ann Crotty

Farmworkers in Clanwilliam have reached an agreement that might signal the end of the farmworkers’ strike in the Western Cape, trade union federation Cosatu said yesterday.

“We are now close to resolving the dispute sooner rather than later,” Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich told reporters.

He believed the agreement was a substantial step forward in the negotiations.

The Clanwilliam farmers had agreed to a wage of R105 a day, and those workers who had participated in the strike would not be victimised.

The agreement had been accepted by most farmworkers.

Ehrenreich said the deal could serve as a model for the rest of the province, if AgriSA agreed to it today.

Western Cape farmworkers went on strike last year to demand their daily wage be increased from R69 to R150, and that a coherent land reform programme be implemented.

The strike was suspended in December, but resumed on Wednesday last week. At least 167 people had been arrested since then, mainly for public violence.

In recent days community organisers reported talk of xenophobia among the protesters, who fear farmers will use foreign labour to replace them.

“We are trying to address this issue before it becomes a problem,” one community leader told Business Report.

In contrast, two years ago De Doorns was at the centre of violent xenophobic protests, which saw foreign workers being forced out of their shack dwellings in the townships adjacent to De Doorns.

Increasing violence in Villiersdorp and Grabouw, which are not table grape growing areas, indicates that the protest activity could spill over into other fruit growing regions.

Meanwhile, key players in the industry attended a meeting convened by the SA Table Grape Industry (SATI) yesterday to set up a development plan for the industry.

The chairman of SATI, Johan van Niekerk, said the protest action “is a change indicator”.

“It is telling us that we need to write a new book for agriculture; one in which the government, labour and farmers act together,” he said.