Cosatu rejects call to suspend farmworkers’ strike

Cosatu has rejected the ANC’s call for an immediate suspension of the farmworkers’ strike and has vowed to “intensify the strike in all areas” in the coming week, Cosatu’s provincial secretary, Tony Ehrenreich, announced on Sunday.

He said plans for an economic boycott of “bad farmers” in local and international retailers were also on the cards.

On Friday the ANC Western Cape leader Marius Fransman called on Cosatu, the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) and the Building Allied Workers Union of SA (Bawusa) to facilitate the suspension of the strike action in favour of talks with farmers on wages and working conditions.

But Ehrenreich has hit back and said only the farmworkers have the power to call off the strike action: “The farmworkers have taken a decision to intensify the strike because the farmers are not serious about the negotiations to find a solution.”

He said that in certain parts of the Western Cape some “good farmers” had indicated their willingness to increase their employees’ wages to R110, but a number of “bad farmers” were opposing this.

He said if agreements were reached with farmers in particular areas, the strike would be suspended in those areas.

“There are deepening tensions among farmers, those that want to do the right thing and pay decent wages are being ostracised by AgriSA. We are calling on government to isolate the racist farmers in AgriSA and to take steps to end their reign of terror on the farms,” said Ehrenreich.

He said there were plans to have farmers who wanted to continue paying their farmworkers R69 a day identified through the ethical trade initiative (ETI). The initiative encourages brands, retailers and their suppliers to take responsibility for improving the working conditions of the people who make the products they sell.

Negotiations continued last week when some individual farmers agreed to a meeting organised by Cape Orchards Company chairman Gerhard de Kock. The company represents 12 farms in the De Doorns/Hex River Valley area. De Kock said there were about 180 farms in the area.

He said he had set a new offer of R105 a day for farmworkers during private negotiations.

De Kock said they discussed the new offer with Ehrenreich and others, and that he would find out on Monday if the workers would report back to work.

Suspended

The strike could be suspended on Tuesday in areas such as Grabouw where there was no harvesting pressure, while strike action would continue in areas such as De Doorns until an acceptable wage offer was on the table, said Ehrenreich.

On Sunday Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant indicated plans to mediate in the farmworker strike if all parties returned to the negotiating table.

She said she had appealed to all the parties since the beginning of the year to negotiate in good faith. For a while it seemed there was progress, but the talks broke down, she said.

Farmworkers from about 16 farms went on strike last year, demanding a coherent land reform programme and that their daily wage be increased from R69 to R150.

The strike was suspended last month, but resumed last Wednesday when police and thousands of protesters clashed on the N1 in De Doorns.

Members of the Farmworker Coalition, an affiliation of unions, NGOs and workers’ committees, were part of a meeting held with union representatives on Saturday.

Coalition member Mercia Andrews said on Sunday that representatives from various organisations and unions had taken a “unanimous decision” over the weekend that the strike would be intensified.

At the weekend about 500 farmworkers converged at the local police station where they met with the station commander, members of the Gender Commission and the Human Rights Commission about laying charges against the police for alleged human rights abuses and intimidation.

Police said the situation was quiet on Sunday afternoon, with no violent protests reported.


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