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Oliphant calls for peaceful strike

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant has called for peaceful protests during a farmworkers' pay strike on Tuesday.

“Violence has no place in our society whose foundation as a democracy is based on intensive social dialogue,” the minister said in a statement on Monday.

(File image) Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant. Photo: Leon Nicholas. Credit: Independent Newspapers

Oliphant said farmers should continue talking to workers to try and find a resolution to their grievances.

Last week, the minister said it would be impossible to meet the workers' December 4 deadline, by which they had wanted their demands addressed.

This after farmworkers suspended the strike to allow for the Employment Conditions Commission (ECC) to look at the sectoral determination for agriculture.

Oliphant said the sectoral determination was put in place in March this year and legally could only be reviewed again in 12 months. The department would continue with public hearings aimed at contributing to a new sectoral determination.

“The hearings have been scheduled until December 13, 2012 but in some instances, the department will be going back for further hearings where we have been requested to,” she said.

The Commercial Stevadoring Agricultural and Allied Workers' Union (CSAAWU) said workers were angry as they felt their demands were not being taken seriously.

“The workers said they felt that suspending the strike to allow for leaders to find a solution was a waste of time,” the CSAAWU's Karel Swart said.

He said although the union had made it clear that no violence would be tolerated, it could not confirm that all striking farmworkers would adhere to the call for a peaceful protest.

“We are still calling on workers to desist from intimidation, violence, blocking roads and unruly behaviour.”

Western Cape police commissioner Arno Lamoer said: “Everybody has the right to protest peacefully. But I will arrest and prosecute anybody who acts against the law.”

The Congress of SA Trade Unions in the province said negotiations with Agri SA, which represented the farmers, had broken down. Provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich said unions had not been able to avert the renewed strike and if it went ahead, it would increase hostility on farms.

“The route that the farmers and Agri SA has chosen, by disregarding workers, will lead to the common ruin of us all and the collapse of the industries around agriculture,” Ehrenreich said.

Farmworkers wanted a daily wage of R150 and better living conditions. The protests started with table grape harvesters in De Doorns, where most workers were earning between R69 and R75 a day.

Two people had been killed in the protests, while vineyards and buildings were torched.

Comment from Agri SA could not immediately be obtained. - Sapa

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