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Farm workers to hand over ‘peace policy’

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farm strike jan 15

CAPE ARGUS

FILE PHOTO: Strikers gather at dawn in Villiersdorp, facing off with police who refused to let them into the town centre. File photo: Thomas Holder

Western Cape - Striking farmworkers will march in De Doorns on Friday morning to hand over a “peaceful strike policy”, the Food and Allied Workers' Union (Fawu) said.

“We are going to the police and farmers to give them this policy. We are still continuing with the strike but are trying a new strategy,” Fawu shop steward Monwabisi Kondile told Sapa.

“The whole of South Africa thinks we are criminals, but we are not. It's not about violence to resolve something. We are coming with peace to resolve things.”

The shop steward said their demand stood at R150 for a daily wage. However they were keen to negotiate, even looking at between R120 and R130.

“We want peace on both sides. We want to negotiate,” he said.

About 3 000 workers were expected to take part in the march, which would start around 11am, pass the De Doorns police station and end at the Hex River Valley Table Grapes Association.

Kondile said workers would use a back road for the march instead of the N1 highway, which remained closed on Friday due to the protest action.

“We don't want to disturb the N1 because it's a national road and we understand that.”

Thousands of striking workers marched for kilometres along the N1 on Thursday afternoon, braving extreme heat to protest for an increase in their daily wage and a coherent land programme.

The march was led by the Black Association of the Wine and Spirit Industry (Bawsi), which represented a large number of non-unionised workers.

The strike, which started last year, was suspended in December but resumed last Wednesday in various towns in the province.

The Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) announced a week-long suspension of the strike on Tuesday, on condition that Agri SA honour commitments to “local-level” agreements and agree to stop the victimisation of workers.

Cosatu's Western Cape secretary Tony Ehrenreich said the suspension excluded De Doorns, because workers there were standing by their demands and were not open to negotiation.

The agriculture department estimated the number of permanent and seasonal workers in the province at around 200,000.

Of these, only five percent were said to be unionised.

The Transvaal Agriculture Union (Tau-SA) said it feared the strike, which had been violent at times, would result in increased violent crime on farms.

“Unfounded accusations blaming farmers exploiting their employees, illegal evictions, or the accusation that farmers have stolen the land to which they hold title deeds, creates a perception that farmers are a criminals who need to be shown no mercy,” said Tau-SA deputy president Henry Geldenhuys.

“This is reflected in the extreme cruelty which characterises farm attacks... Farmers need to ensure that their security arrangements are in place.”

Geldenhuys said farmers had no choice but to accept responsibility for their own safety, stating that three people had been killed in nine farm attacks this year.

The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) on Thursday said it was investigating over 20 complaints of brutality against farmworkers by the police, farmers and private security.

The labour department was holding an extra week of public hearings in the province to assist in the determination of a new minimum wage for the sector.

Hearings had already taken place in Grabouw, Paarl, De Doorns and Robertson, with the last two to be held in Oudtshoorn and Vredendal.

Department spokesman Mokgadi Pela said an announcement on the new minimum wage determination was expected next month, with effect from March 1. - Sapa


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