Farm wage talks are a ‘stopgap measure’

2365618 INLSA Tina Joemat-Pettersson

Xolani Koyana and Sapa

Farm-to-farm pay talks in the Western Cape are a “stopgap measure” to restore peace until sectoral wage talks in March, Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said yesterday.

Briefing the media in Cape Town following negotiations on Tuesday that resulted in unions declaring January 9 the new deadline for farmworkers’ R150-a-day minimum wage demands to be met, she appealed to farmers and their employees to negotiate in good faith.

“Sectoral negotiations are the overall, comprehensive solution to this problem... but for now we are left with no other option but to do farm-to-farm negotiations,” she said.

“We appeal to all farmers and farmworkers to negotiate in good faith. I appeal to all stakeholders not to victimise farmworkers. I appeal to farmworkers not to engage in instances of violence.”

Joemat-Pettersson urged farmers to allow union members on to their farms “so the workers have some form of support when these negotiations take place”.

She said the negotiations – agreed to at a meeting on Tuesday, involving unions, the departments of agriculture and labour, and AgriSA, among others – needed to be as open and honest as possible.

“These are not comprehensive negotiations, but a stopgap measure to assist us in managing the period from now until the end of the sectoral negotiations.”

She warned this stopgap measure was not about establishing a minimum wage now. “We are not creating expectations that by January 9, there will be a new minimum wage; this will be determined by the sectoral negotiations... which remain the fundamental responsibility of the minister of labour.”

Joemat-Pettersson said she was in “regular contact” with Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant on the matter.

There was sporadic farmworker violence in several Western Cape towns on Tuesday, including Robertson, and marches and protest action in several others. Unrest in the sector started early last month, with farmworkers demanding an increase in their daily minimum wage, from R69 to R150.

Food and Allied Workers’ Union national negotiator Mlamleli Phukwana said from next week the union would consolidate its membership and hoped to get negotiations going in two weeks.

Black Association of the Wine and Spirit Industry president Nosey Pieterse said a conference would be held on Saturday to verify membership numbers before negotiating.

He said unions were recruiting non-unionised workers.

“When we are done with the plant-level negotiations we will turn

our attention to the government’s sectoral determination,” Pieterse said.

During a meeting with unions Labour Department director-general Nkosinathi Nhleko said he was concerned about low levels of unionisation in the farming sector.

Under six percent of farmworkers belong to trade unions nationally. In the Western Cape figures hover around the 10 percent mark, he said.

l Meanwhile Mawubuye Land Rights Forum’s Mercia Andrews, colleague Denia Jansen, farmworkers Riaan Plaatjies and Margaret Syivisser, who were arrested during protest on Tuesday, appeared in the Ashton Magistrate’s Court yesterday on charges of incitement of violence, intimidation and participating in an illegal march in the Koo Valley outside Montagu. They were later released.

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