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and Xolani Koyana
TOMORROW will be the day farmworkers show their real power, unions and farm worker groups warned yesterday.
Farmworkers from across the country hope to down tools tomorrow to bring the agricultural industry to a standstill in support of their demand to increase the minimum wage from R69 a day to R150.
“On December 4 farmworkers will show their real power. We won’t let this historic moment pass by. Farmworkers won’t go for anything less than R150,” Women on Farms acting director Colette Solomon said yesterday.
About 300 farmworkers from Ashton, Bonnievale and Robertson met on a sports field in Ashton yesterday and decided to resume their strike.
In De Doorns, Cosatu and other union leaders met with 80 female farm workers from across the Western Cape to report on plans for the week.
Both meetings in Ashton and De Doorns were organised to give farmworkers a chance to voice their frustration.
In De Doorns, Women on Farms were the organisers. In Ashton the Commercial Stevedoring Alliance Allied Workers Union (Csaawu) and Mawubuye Land Rights Forum convened the event.
All those in attendance at both meetings voted for going back on strike.
“How many more vineyards must burn and farmworkers must die before farmworkers are listened to,” said Black Association of the Wine and Spirit Industry general secretary Nosey Pieterse in De Doorns.
Workers from 16 farming towns had halted their action two weeks ago after unions and the government brokered a deal in which workers would
suspend the strike for two weeks while the Department of Labour reviewed the agricultural sectoral determination.
But last week when Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant said the process would not be completed until April workers threatened more strike action.
Speaking at the sportsfield, Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich said farmers’ refusal to table an offer had led to the resumption of the strike tomorrow.
“Come Tuesday, farmers will realise that workers have had enough. Farmers have been treating farmworkers like dogs for way too long.”
Csaawu assistant general secretary Karel Swart said farmworkers and union representatives would hold marches in several towns. Pickets would also be held on farms.
“You cannot take the struggle from the street to the boardroom. Workers should not have suspended their strike. We have given the farmers a chance to prepare. They are now ready for war,” Swart said, referring to farmers who have hired private security to protect their property from damage.
Ehrenreich said unions were still talking to some farmers. “There are some farmers willing to talk and increase wages. They don’t want to associate with right-wing elements like Agri SA and Agri Western Cape,” he said. Ehrenreich didn’t want to say who these farm owners were but said they represented 80 percent of the farming produce in the Western Cape.
Agri SA Labour Committee chairperson Anton Rabe rejected Ehrenreich’s claim and said they have always been apolitical.
“We support the fact of better wages. Some of our farmers pay up to 40 percent more than the minimum, but it shouldn’t be to the detriment of the industry and creating jobs,” said Rabe.
He called on farmers to stay calm and workers not to intimidate those who want to work.
“We support those who want to strike; it is their right.”
Meanwhile farmworker June Skippers from Ceres said there is already a high security presence in the Koue okkeveld.
“They [security and police] are patrolling the streets around Witzenberg. It’s intimidating,” she said.
Ryno Filander has worked at Wonderfontein farm for four years but has lived there for 39. His grandfather worked on the farm, where he now lives with his girlfriend and their child.
He said for him the strike was not just about the R150 a day but better living conditions.
“The owner recently bought 12 new tanks to store his wine but he says he can’t afford to upgrade a few structures.
“A lot of people see the [farm] as being beautiful and will probably think that we are complaining about nothing. You have to live there in order to see how much of a painful life we live,” Filander said.