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Farm strikes: What lessons were learnt

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IOL news jan 29  ct Picking Grapes 3654 (31533453)

CAPE TIMES

These two farmworkers, who refused to have their names published, have returned to work on a farm near De Doorns. Some Hex River Valley farmers have agreed to pay workers R105 a day. Picture: JEFFREY ABRAHAMS

Cape Town - Farmworkers in De Doorns went back to work last week and production at some farms returned to normal after a deal of R105 a day was agreed on by unions and farmers. Wage agreements at other farms are yet to be finalised but it is understood they could be signed off by the end of the week. The strike was on intermittently for three months as workers demanded R150 a day. XOLANI KOYANA spoke to those who had been involved or affected by the strike to find out what lessons were learnt.

NOSEY PIETERSE is Bawsi Agriculture Workers’ Union of SA general secretary:

“In the absence of unions, farmers were left at the mercy of lawlessness because people were not subjected to an organisation’s rules.

“For us it was difficult leading people who were not subjected to our organisation’s rules and discipline. We as unions will no longer be kept outside the farm gates because we have gained a significant number of members.

“I think the victory for the workers is they managed to have the sectoral determination reviewed this year. The current minimum wage would have been reviewed in three years’ time.”

Zikhona Maqona, a farmworker at the De La Haye in De Doorns:

“I have learned that it is not a good thing to go about things in a violent way because people have been killed and some have lost their eyes in the strike. Others are in jail because of all the violence. I think the next time we as workers have to sit down with farmers to negotiate our own wage increases and if they don’t want to then we can go to unions for help.

“I feel like we have not gained anything because people are still confused as to how much we will be paid.

“We hear that some farmers are still offering R69 but we are told that we have to go back to work.”

Sandile Keni is the Food and Allied Workers’ Union provincial organiser:

“What we have managed to achieve is that workers’ voices have been heard. Communities sympathise with them because they believe that being paid R69 is not fair.

“One of the losses for the strike was the violence between police and the community. Those are the things that that can tarnish an organisation’s image.

“I think this will teach unions to properly communicate with members so that there are not conflicts that will lead to violence. That will also help us avoid our struggle being hijacked by hooligans and criminals.”

Michael Loubser is a farmer and spokesman for the Hex Valley Table Grape Farmers Association:

“Farmers have lost out quite a lot, having their vineyards burnt and property damaged.

“Nothing has been gained out of this.

“None of the farmworkers really got much out of this.

“I think the only positive that came from this strike is that farmworkers’ voices have never been heard as much as they did in the last few months.

“I hope that the government and South Africans realise that it is not only farmers who benefit from agriculture but farmworkers also.”

Gerrit Van Rensburg is MEC for Agriculture and Rural Development.

“In South Africa there are tensions between certain groups, in particular foreigners.

“I think in future we must learn to deal with those conflicts. We can find solutions to problems if we just sit around a table and talk about them. It was very sad to watch what unfolded in the last few months; vineyards, property and vehicles being burnt.

“I really hope that farmworkers earn more. But we as government have to do a lot to ensure the profitability of farms.

“That will translate to better wages for farmworkers.”

Cape Times


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