THE strike by workers in the province’s agricultural sector has been called off indefinitely, Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich announced during a rally in De Doorns yesterday.
The decision and the premise on which it was made was welcomed by farmers approached by the Cape Argus.
Workers would be encouraged to unionise or to organise into collective bargaining bodies and to negotiate directly with their employers.
This echoed the sentiments of Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies who addressed workers in De Doorns 24 hours before Cosatu’s announcement.
“The demand for a R150-a-day living wage remains unchanged,” Ehrenreich said, adding that a demand for farmworkers to have a share in the profits of the export harvest had been added.
“Workers will negotiate with their employers. We trust that agreements on farms could be reached through such a process.”
Ehrenreich said strikes would resume on individual farms where agreements were not reached by January 9 next year.
This would coincide directly with “one of the most critical periods in the harvesting process, ensuring that farmers are under maximum pressure to reach an agreement with their workers before then”.
Unions, particularly Cosatu affiliate the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) and the independent Building and Allied Workers Union of SA (Bawusa), have been signing up new members since the strike began four weeks ago.
But, in Fawu Western Cape chairman Timothy Ncwana’s words, the competition between the unions was distracting from the process of publicising workers’ grievances while the strike was still ongoing.
Anton Rabe, spokesman for Agri SA, welcomed the announcement.
“From the beginning we have accepted that there are challenges in our industry. But throughout we have called for proper processes to be put in place to address these.”
However, farmworker Monwabisi Kondile said he was unhappy because Cosatu had been “playing football with the workers”.
He said at one moment they said they should strike and the next that they should not.
The strikes due to resume yesterday had different levels of support in the province.
In Ceres, Pieter du Toit of the Du Toit Group estimated that close to 100 percent of the workforce had gone to work yesterday.
In De Doorns, while many workers supported the stayaway, many went to work.
In these two areas the strike went ahead with few reports of intimidation and violence.
By late yesterday there was a tense stand-off between police and farmworkers in Rawsonville.
Farmworkers allege that police opened fire with rubber bullets at a taxi rank at about 3pm.
The workers had returned from a march, organised by the Farmworkers Coalition, during which a memorandum was handed over to the offices of Agri Wes Cape – which represents farmers’ interests – and the Department of Labour in Paarl.
“The workers who left Paarl were in a good mood. The workers that are here are angry and tense,” said Colette Solomon, acting director of Women on Farms who was on the scene.
She slammed the police for “inciting tension rather than defusing it”.
But the police said they were attacked by stone-throwers before firing rubber bullets. Two hectares of vineyards were burnt down in Rawsonville yesterday. Police ordered demonstrators to disperse, and by 8pm calm had returned.
Police spokesman Andre Traut said the suspects were in possession of an unlicensed firearm.
“The suspects were driving in the direction of De Doorns when their vehicle was searched. A 308 Mauser and 60 rounds of ammunition were found in the vehicle and no one could produce a valid licence for the possession thereof. The suspects aged between 33 and 66 years are due in court once they have been charged,” Traut said.
Captain Mzikayise Moloi, spokesman for Worcester police, confirmed that four of the men were wearing AWB uniforms.
AWB leader Steyn van Ronge confirming that the arrested men were members of the organisation.
“The state has a duty to keep order. The AWB are not there to keep the order, but our members will step in to protect and support our comrades (‘kamrade’) if we feel that they are in danger in spite of steps taken by the state,” he said. Six of the seven men have been released. The man who is still in custody will appear in court tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Franschhoek police confirmed that about 500 farmworkers took to the streets in the Groendal area yesterday, burning tyres and causing havoc on the town’s roads. About 15 people were arrested and several were injured. No farms were affected, police said.