Farm strikes to continue indefinitely

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iol news pic cw Farmworker packages_3452nu (31005344) INLSA Food parcels destined for farmworkers in Robertson and Ashton, who werent paid during the recent strike. Here Stanford Flanagan, of the Trust for Community Outreach and Education, co-ordinates the donation yesterday, as Yusuf Bharoochi, of the Islamic Co-ordinating Council, looks on. Picture: Gareth Smit

Cape Town - Wage talks with farmers in the Western Cape have failed, and the farmworker strike will resume on Wednesday, Cosatu announced on Friday.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Cosatu regional secretary Tony Ehrenreich said the strikes would continue indefinitely until the workers’ demands were met.

Their demands include a R150-per-day wage and a “coherent land reform programme”.

In November last year, table grape workers in De Doorns started striking, protesting against low wages of around R70 per day, and strikes soon spread to 15 other towns. Violence marred the strikes and two people were killed.

The strike was called off last month after Agri-SA agreed to negotiations on a farm-by-farm basis.

Ehrenreich and several organisations present at the press conference, including the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu), Women on Farms and the Commercial Stevedoring Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU), said last month’s strikes were not organised by the unions. They had, however, undertaken to negotiate with the government and Agri-SA on the workers’ behalf.

Ehrenreich added that negotiations undertaken on a farm-by-farm basis had not gone ahead. Farmers had stalled the process, and in the few cases where farmers had been willing to negotiate, “no substantial progress had been made”.

Activist Nosey Pieterse, representing the Bawsi Agricultural Workers Union of South Africa, said the farmers had shown a “hardening of the heart”.

“The workers agreed at a mass meeting held in Franschhoek on Thursday that they will strike until a negotiating partner comes to the table,” he said.

Ehrenreich said the strike would take place “primarily in the Western Cape”, but could spread to other areas as the R150-per-day demand was a national one.

Fawu provincial organiser Sandile Keni said the union was still willing to negotiate with farmers, but that they would also be making a call at a later stage to other industries represented by the union who might also go on strike.

The organisations added that they were appealing for an international boycott of the farmers.

Ehrenreich said they were calling on big international communities and companies to stand up against the low wages paid to farmworkers.

CSAAWU assistant secretary general Karl Swart said the boycott was pay-back for the “economic boycott” that farmers imposed on workers, by not paying wages, or living wages, which affected all aspects of their lives.

“We are calling for an international fruit and wine boycott so these people know that this is blood fruit and blood wine,” he said.

Sapa reports Agri-SA as saying that Cosatu has brought nothing but demands and threats of anarchy to the negotiating table.

President of the farmers’ organisation Johannes Möller said they had made several proposals during talks. These included participating in the process to re-evaluate the minimum wage for workers, and allowing farmers to discuss salaries and bonuses with workers.

He said if the strike went ahead next week, they would be forced to advise farmers to restructure agriculture. This would probably include moving the farming of labour-intensive commodities to neighbouring countries, where the risk of labour unrest was lower.

Möller was also critical of Cosatu’s boycott threats.

“Due to the scarcity of agricultural products, I doubt they will be successful… for one of the governing parts of the tripartite alliance to make threats of sanctions against agriculture is highly irresponsible.”

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