Strike solution hangs in balance

Xolani Koyana

IT IS not likely that the wage dispute between farmworkers and their employers will be resolved in less than two weeks, and this could lead to more protests by workers and a resumption of their strike.

Farm workers, who went on the rampage last week over low pay and poor working and living conditions, on Sunday accepted the government’s appeal to them to suspend their strike for two weeks pending a review of wages. They also threatened there would be more protests if their R150-a-day demand was not met in those two weeks.

But the Department of Labour said yesterday that the review might take longer.

Calm was restored and production on some farms returned to normal yesterday after most farm workers reported to work for the first time in two weeks. But those who led the protests in De Doorns have been fired.

De Doorns strike committee member Lunga Yanta said he and other committee members had been sacked.

“I understand that all the people who were part of the committee were told to go home and not to return,” Yanta said.

A contract he had signed with the company that managed the farm would expire in June, Yanta said.

Cosatu was aware that some farmers were dismissing workers who had taken part in the strike, the labour federation’s provincial secretary, Tony Ehrenreich, said.

“They are also doing this in a manner that is meant to cause tensions between South Africans and non-South Africans. This conduct on the part of the farmers will see [fresh eruptions of] the explosion of actions we have already seen.”

Last week, the Department of Labour set in motion plans to review the minimum wage for the agricultural sector when it published a notice for the cancellation of the current sectoral determination.

A notice calling for comment from interested parties was published the same day.

The current minimum wage for the agricultural sector, set in March, is R70 a day, but farm workers are demanding R150. Most earn between R69 and R75 a day.

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant’s spokesman, Musa Zondi, said: “You can understand where the workers are coming from, but you can’t put a timetable on issues where negotiations take place. You know that a lot of things arise from negotiations.”

Zondi said Oliphant, who returns tomorrow from Geneva from a meeting of the International Labour Organisation, would meet the Employment Conditions Commission on Thursday.

The commission would advise Oliphant on how to go about revising the sectoral determination, Zondi said.

She would then consider representations.

Agri SA is making representations to the department, its national president, Johannes Molle, says.

He said should the department approve an increase, some farmers would not be able to afford it.

“The whole structure of the agriculture sector would change.”

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