Union leaders divided over way forward
A SPLIT in the leadership of the unions representing farm- workers has caused dissension about the way forward.
A violent strike last month by workers in Boland towns was called off after an agreement between Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson and AgriSA that the government, unions and farmers would look at increasing the minimum wage in the agricultural sector.
Strikers wanted a minimum wage of R150 a day.
In Parliament last week, Joemat-Petterson said unions would conduct farm-to-farm negotiations, which would be “stop-gap” measures until the Department of Labour’s sectoral determination (on the minimum wage) in April.
But United Democratic Front (UDF) leader Mario Wanza yesterday said many farm workers felt aggrieved when the strike was called off, and a mass meeting would be held over the weekend to pave the way forward. It was likely that the strike would resume, Wanza said. But some unions representing workers refuted Wanza’s claims, saying he did not represent workers.
Wanza said the coalition comprised Sikhula Sonke, Women on Farms, the Food and Allied Workers Union, Mawubuye, Commercial Stevedoring Alliance Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU), Building Wood and Allied Workers Union of South Africa (Bawusa) and representatives from farming communities.
Bawusa general secretary Nosey Pieterse said his union was not part of a coalition with the UDF. “[Wanza] must take my organisation’s name out of his posters. We have constantly told him that we have no business with what he is doing. He is not representing farmworkers.”
He said he was in a meeting with Cosatu, Fawu, Sikhula Sonke and strike committee representative to discuss farmworker-related issues, but there was no mention of a continuation of the strike.
Pieterse said they would approach the Labour Department to get access to farms and get the process of farm-to-farm negotiations going.
Ehrenreich said Wanza did not represent anyone in the farming community and he would not entertain his comments.
Billy Xabela of Mawubuye agreed that there had been no consultation with farmworkers on the issue, instead they had been told to go back to work.
Xabela said the coalition had met workers last Sunday and were aggrieved by the suspension of the strike.
“Farmworkers are ready to go back on strike because they know this is the only opportunity they have to get what they are asking for.”
Strike committee member in De Doorns Bonisile Vyver said some areas had been displeased with the termination of the strike. He said De Doorns farmworkers had given Cosatu a mandate to call off the strike, but other areas had not been consulted.
He said there was a possibility that a strike could resume before the January 9 deadline, but that would be decided at the rally on Sunday.