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Johannesburg - Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson has called for an end to the violence in the De Doorns area, where workers are on strike in demand of better pay and working conditions.
She was commenting after being asked by their representatives and unions to escalate their demands to an inter-ministerial meeting to review the minimum wage for the entire agriculture sector.
“The farmworkers' unions said they were willing to abandon the strikes for two weeks until a solution to the wage issue was found,” Joemat-Pettersson said in a statement on Tuesday night.
Farmworkers in the area went on strike last week. They are asking for R150 per day in wages.
“The farmworker unions demanded that workers should be paid a minimum of R80 per day in wages with immediate effect. The workers were also urged to go to work tomorrow,” she said.
Joemat-Pettersson said rising food prices and food insecurity made it impossible for people to live on R70 a day and that intervention was needed to improve the situation.
She said inequality, unemployment and poverty would never be eliminated if vulnerable workers were not paid decent wages and their living conditions were not improved.
“The challenge is on us as government to ensure that when we speak of a developmental country we address the triple challenges and how we can eradicate them.”
Western Cape police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Andre Traut said the largest disruptions were in De Doorns, Ceres, Robertson, Prince Alfred Hamlet and Somerset West.
Police had erected roadblocks, detours and barricades in these areas for the public's protection.
On Tuesday, a policeman had to be hospitalised after being hit on the head by a stone thrown by a protester. On Monday, 10 people were arrested for public violence and intimidation
In the Western Cape's Witzenburg municipality, protesting farmworkers had caused damaged estimated at R500 000, municipal spokesperson Anette Radjoo said on Tuesday.
“Property damage has been sustained including the destruction of a packing shed, veld fires, damage to farming crops, burning of tyres in streets and throwing of stones,” she said.
The Transvaal Agricultural Union of South Africa (Tau-SA) said it had advised its members not to pay workers less than the minimum wage.
“The problems of De Doorns cannot be made the problem of the entire agricultural industry,” it said.
“We encourage workers to seek work and to accept service where they receive the best salary.”
Increasing minimum wages in agriculture would lead to further dismissals, it said. - Sapa