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Farmworkers chart way forward

Cape Town - While farm strikes across the Western Cape have slowly abated this week, workers in Wolseley, Worcester and Touws River are planning mass meetings for Saturday and Sunday to discuss their struggle for a better wage deal.

Disaster management teams watching the ongoing strike action said they had toned down their operations after most workers heeded Cosatu’s call to suspend the strike action.

Nosey Pieterse addresses workers in Wolseley. Picture Jeffrey Abrahams. Credit: INLSA

Provincial disaster management chief director Colin Deiner said following meetings with police and other role players, they were now focusing mainly on monitoring the various hotspots in both the Cape Winelands and Overberg regions.

Deiner said role players would now start assessing the damage caused by the strike action, which resumed on Wednesday last week in several towns across the province.

During the first wave of strikes in November some vineyards were set alight by striking farmworkers, resulting in an estimated R100 million in damages. This week, an export fruit farmer in the Wellington area suffered severe losses in what police suspect was an arson attack related to the farm strike.

Jan le Roux, owner of Sandrivier Estate, had his fruit packing warehouse set alight during the early hours of Wednesday morning. Several tractors were also damaged in the blaze.

Le Roux told Weekend Argus yesterday he was now focusing on picking up the pieces to ensure that his workers kept their jobs.

“We are in a hurry to get things up and running again so that the jobs of the 500 workers currently in our employ are not affected,” he said.

Despite Cosatu announcing a week-long suspension of the strike earlier this week, striking workers aligned to the Bawsi Agricultural Workers Union continued to take to the streets, protesting for a daily wage of R150.

One of the main strike leaders, Nosey Pieterse, said after meeting provincial police commissioner Arno Lamoer this week that all strike action had been peaceful.

“There has been no arrest and no incidents of violence reported.

“We are seeking peace and working with the police,” he said yesterday after workers marched on two farms, one in Paarl and one in Wellington, to hand over memorandums listing their demands.

Meanwhile, Western Cape traffic chief Kenny Africa said a section of the N1 highway remained closed at De Doorns late yesterday.

This was the result of damage caused to the road by the strike action.

Police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Andre Traut confirmed there were no reports of violence by late yesterday.

Cosatu’s Western Cape secretary, Tony Ehrenreich, said the suspension excluded De Doorns, because workers there were standing by their demands and not open to negotiations.

Addressing the issue of farmworkers not being unionised, he said Cosatu was only called on by the workers to assist in facilitating negotiations between them and farmers.

“It is for farmworkers to make sure they join unions. They need to make sure that they are covered and protected,” he said.

Ehrenreich added that unions needed to be more widely available to farmworkers, while farmers needed to stop victimising workers wanting to join unions.

Meanwhile, the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is investigating more than 20 complaints of brutality against farmworkers by police, farmers, and security guards.

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