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Western Cape - Western Cape Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) secretary Tony Ehrenreich is inconsiderate and insensitive for encouraging farmworkers to go on strike, Independent Democrats MPL Rodney Lentit said on Wednesday.
“It is blatant exploitation of farmworkers that Tony Ehrenreich encourages these farm strikes at the start of the year, when finances are tight and workers have to compensate for various commitments, especially school fees and debt incurred over the festive season,” he said in a statement.
“This is nothing but cheap, political window-dressing at the expense of the poor. The last thing any worker needs is to start the year without having earned a wage or salary when the rest of the country is recovering from festive spending.”
Ehrenreich said he could not respond to the allegations because they were not based on facts.
“Doesn't he (Lentit) read the papers? All Cosatu is doing is assisting the farmworkers,” he said.
“I can't respond to something like that, because there isn't a party like that (the ID), that exists in real terms.”
In 2010, ID leader Patricia de Lille agreed to merge the party with the Democratic Alliance. The parties will be fully merged by 2014.
Lentit said he visited farms in Porterville and the “surrounding areas” on Wednesday morning, and saw that farmworkers were back at their jobs.
“For those few workers who have been encouraged by Tony Ehrenreich to strike, I plead with them to do so in a peaceful and law-abiding way,” he said.
The strike was suspended last year following an undertaking that negotiations would continue between workers' representatives and individual farmers. However, this proved unsuccessful.
Workers wanted wages of R150 a day and a coherent land reform programme.
At least two people were killed during protests in farming areas between August 27 and December 4.
Lentit said those farm owners whose annual turnover was significantly higher than others needed to compensate their workers.
“It is an issue that needs to be addressed with urgency as not all farmers are categorised, or can afford to pay their workers more than the basic or standard wage,” he said.
Around 50 people were arrested on Wednesday when renewed farm strikes turned violent.
Lt-Col Andre Traut said riot police had been deployed to contain the situation in the Boland farming town of De Doorns.
“We are taking action, and arrests are being effected,” Traut said, adding that “in the region of 50” people had been detained since the protests began early on Wednesday.
Protesters stoned cars, prompting the police to close roads. The N1 was closed outside De Doorns, forcing motorists to use alternative routes.
Farmworkers said they would not return to the vineyards on Wednesday afternoon as the situation had become too volatile. - Sapa