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Western Cape - Cosatu has rejected the ANC’s call for an immediate suspension of the farmworker 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 also said plans for an economic boycott of “bad farmers” in local and international retailers were on the cards.
This comes after ANC Western Cape leader Marius Fransman said on Friday that Cosatu, the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) and the Building Allied Workers Union of SA (Bawusa) should 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” have indicated their willingness to increase their employee’s wages to R110, but a number of “bad farmers” are 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 amongst 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 are plans to have farmers who want 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, which produce about three million boxes of table grapes a year. 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.
He 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.
Last week, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) also offered to intervene.
Should the government come to the party on Monday, the strike may be suspended on Tuesday in areas like Grabouw, where there was no harvesting pressure, while areas such as De Doorns would see the strike continue until an acceptable wage offer is on the table, said Ehrenreich.
Meanwhile, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant on Sunday indicated her plans to mediate in the farmworker strike if all parties returned to the negotiating table.
She said she has appealed to all the parties involved to engage in negotiations in good faith since the beginning of the year. 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 in December, 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 told the Cape Argus 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, around 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 charges to be laid against the police related to human rights abuses and intimidation.
Police said the situation was quiet on Sunday afternoon, with no violent protests reported.