Western Cape - The ANC has told union boss Tony Ehrenreich to call for the immediate end of the farmworker’s strike, with ANC provincial leader Marius Fransman telling Ehrenreich: “Leadership will have to lead.”
But Ehrenreich, who is also the ANC leader in the Cape Town city council, hit back that it was “not Cosatu’s strike to call on or off”.
The strike, which has at its root farmworkers’ demands for a R150-a-day minimum wage, reignited on Wednesday and quickly became violent with rubber bullets fired at stone-throwing protesters, who also torched vehicles and property.
On Friday, however, the action had calmed somewhat, with only pockets of unrest reported.
Fransman was firm on Friday that Cosatu, the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) and the Building and Allied Workers Union of SA (Bawusa) should suspend the strike, and help workers begin talks with their employers.
He also had harsh words for farmers who spent large amounts on high-end security to guard their property, describing the guards as “nothing but mercenaries shooting at innocent farmworkers”. But he later admitted there was “goodwill” among some farmers, and said the time had come for a “cool-off time and room for talks”.
“Cosatu, under the leadership of comrade Tony last Sunday, was leading the process of the build-up to the strike, and he indicated that they were there giving direction to the process. He must now publicly call for immediate suspension of the strike. Leadership will have to lead, even if it is difficult,” Fransman said.
Ehrenreich’s response was curt: “This is not Cosatu’s strike to call on or off. The workers are certainly not going to take kindly to us trying to call it off at this stage because there is no agreement yet.”
On negotiations with farmers, he added that Cosatu had made good progress, on a town-by-town basis. The CCMA had also come on board to aid in negotiations.
“Many farmers are coming forward to negotiate, but De Doorns is still a problem. There is a big divide between those farmers who are willing to negotiate and those who want to continue paying the R69 per day.”
Ehrenreich warned that if agreement was not reached soon, the strike could escalate “out of control”. Workers would not back off before a settlement was struck.
Premier Helen Zille also stepped into the fray, saying
that Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant’s “deafening silence” should be challenged.
“She needs to bring together the relevant stakeholders to facilitate discussions, and reach an agreement that will calm tensions and ensure that the harvest season is not disrupted,” said Zille.
“This crisis will very seriously impact on our food export industry, and the hundreds of thousands of people dependent on it,” she said.
Oliphant’s spokesman Musa Zondi responded that resolution of the strike, now in its fourth day was in the hands of employers and employees.
“There isn’t much the minister can do, except to keep appealing to the parties to talk. But obviously we are encouraged by the fact that some farm owners have decided to break ranks and say they will negotiate with workers on their farms,” Zondi said.
Zondi also took a swipe at AgriSA over its statement that it did not have a mandate to enter negotiations and was awaiting a sectoral determination, saying it was throwing a spanner in the works.
“Sectoral determination and collective bargaining between the employer and employee are two separate processes. All sectoral determination does is to set up the bare minimum amount that an employee can be paid in that sector.”
However, Hans van der Merwe, AgriSA president, called Zondi’s claims “nonsense”.
“We have organisations as members. None of our affiliates have a mandate to negotiate on behalf of their members on wages, therefore we also do not have a mandate.”
“If we did fall under the Labour Relations Act with a central bargaining council, then it would have legal enforcement ability, but that is not the case. What we did do, and are still doing, is urging our farmers to negotiate with workers at farm level.”
Meanwhile, Western Cape Disaster Risk Management head Colin Deiner said Friday’s strike was marked by only “sporadic incidents”.
A five-year-old child was slightly injured in the hand by a rubber bullet in Ceres. There had also been activity in Villiersdorp, De Doorns and Grabouw. “There have been protests all over, but they are very small,” Deiner said.
Six people were arrested on Friday, bringing the total arrests to 124. – Additional reporting by Daneel Knoetze