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Situation on farms waiting to explode

Donwald Pressly

Government’s failure to find a solution to the minimum wage for farmworkers in the Western Cape looks set to “blow up” in early December, Cosatu warned last night.

120704. Cape Town.Honourable Minister of Labour, Ms Mildred Olifant, at the South African Maritime Industry Conference Programme 2012 held at the CTICC. Picture Henk Kruger/Cape Argus. Credit: INLSA

Tony Ehrenreich, the Western Cape regional secretary of Cosatu, said that the government and Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant had “done nothing” to avert the crisis.

Instead of looking to the current negotiations between employers who are represented by AgriSA, and workers who are represented by Cosatu and others, to find a way to end “slave wages” on Western Cape farms, Ehrenreich said that the minister had said the minimum wage determination could only be implemented in April.

Oliphant told a media briefing in Pretoria: “I hope that it is quite clear that the deadline of December 4 is practically impossible to achieve, considering the limitations as per the Basic Conditions of Employment Act in that the minister can only review the sectoral determination once it has been in place for a period of at least 12 months.” Workers want their pay increased from R69 to R150 a day immediately.

The date of December 4 had been pencilled in to achieve a settlement, but Ehrenreich said if there was no deal by December 3, “then they are going on strike on December 4”.

“The minister’s statement doesn’t in any way help with the challenges we have to deal with. We all know there are technicalities around sectoral determination… but the R69 a day minimum wage has been condemned by everyone in society. Yet the minister says there is no urgency. We should be averting a crisis.”

Asked if she then expected a flare-up of strike action and possible violence breaking out again in the winelands and table grape region in December, Oliphant said: “I can’t guarantee that one… I can’t say that there will be a strike and no strike. It will be guided by the negotiations going on.”

Pressed on her colleague Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson’s promise to workers that she would be asking the authorities not to prosecute them for any transgressions of the law related to recent strike violent on farms, Oliphant said: “That statement was made by the minister of agriculture… I don’t know why she made that statement.

“Let me start [on] whether workers destroyed [property]… whether the courts come in or whatever. I can’t stand in the way of the justice system.”

Ehrenreich said that the minister was sounding more like “the minister for farmers than a minister for labour”.

Oliphant appealed instead to those who went on strike not to destroy property.

Meanwhile, public hearings “are currently taking place as a process towards the reviewing of the sectoral determination”, Oliphant reported.

The hearings have been scheduled until December 13, after which a report will be compiled.

This report will be forwarded to the Employment Conditions Commission – on which business, worker representatives and government sit – which will then make recommendations advising the labour minister “on the amendments to the sectoral determination”.

Wouter Kriel, a spokesman for the Western Cape Agriculture Ministry, said that there was “no new information regarding any action” in the winelands “but we are watching the possibility of a strike around December 4”.

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