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Farm workers vow to return to strike

Cape Town - The Western Cape could face “a Marikana situation” this week as farm workers threaten to go on strike again and say they will close the N1 at De Doorns.

Union leaders say they will not be able to control the strike, made up mostly of non-union members.

Farmworkers in De Doorns. File photo: Tracey Adams. Credit: CAPE ARGUS

The strike will begin at a critical time when table-grape farmers around Paarl and stone-fruit farmers from Ceres will start harvesting this week.

Cosatu provincial leader Tony Ehrenreich said yesterday: “Cosatu can’t call an end to this strike because these are not our workers. We are staring at a Marikana situation where workers are acting on their own.”

Over 1 500 workers met in De Doorns yesterday to rally support for the strike, due to start on Wednesday.

Workers have threatened to block off the N1 on Wednesday during one of the busiest times of the year on the farms.

“We will close down the N1. There are people coming back from holiday. They won’t have a way through,” farmworker Lunga Yanta said to a roar from the crowd.

Ehrenreich said that because of its national standing and access to the government, farm workers had trusted Cosatu to bring farm owners to the negotiations. “But this has failed,” he added.

That was why workers were resuming the protest.

“The danger is that nobody can bring an end to the hostility because farm owner organisations like Agri SA are unwilling to negotiate,” said Ehrenreich.

Strike action was suspended on December 5 when workers agreed with Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson to give farm owners and the government a chance to agree to a wage increase from R69 to R150 a day .

Parties agreed then that workers and farm owners would continue with farm-to-farm negotiations, while unions would recruit more members over the holiday period.

It was the second time workers had agreed to stop strike action in the hopes of reaching an agreement.

Strike action turned violent late last year when vineyards and farm infrastructure were destroyed and farm owners claimed they had suffered million of rand in losses.

Black Agricultural Workers Union of South Africa general secretary Nosey Pieterse said 271 people had been arrested since November 1, when the strike started.

He told the workers that negotiations with farmers had failed.

“The farm-to-farm negotiations were a disaster. They were a waste of time. We were met with arrogance,” Pieterse told the crowd.

Yesterday’s rally at the Stofland sports field in De Doorns was attended mostly by seasonal farm workers, who voted for a return to the strike on Wednesday.

Agri SA labour committee chairman Anton Rabe said farmers had not agreed to wage increases with their workers on a farm-to-farm basis over the weekend.

He believes the strike will have a minimal effect on the province’s agriculture sector.

According to Ehrenreich, farmers will feel the effects of a prolonged strike and the possibility of an international boycott of all South African fruit.

Joemat-Pettersson’s spokeswoman, Palesa Mokomele, said yesterday a call to boycott South African fruits would also affect the industry’s ability to create jobs.

“This will go against our aim of sustaining and creating jobs in the sector,” she said.

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