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Western Cape - Members of the Farmworkers Coalition, an affiliation of unions, NGOs and workers’ committees, predict more strike action.
The vulnerability of agriculture in January, a busy period in the fruit and wine industry, will be exploited, said the coalition’s Mercia Andrews.
Late last year, workers protesting against poor pay and ill treatment resulted in millions of rands worth of damage to farm owners’ property and brought the agricultural sector to a standstill.
But the coalition maintains that conditions, wages and treatment of farmworkers in the wake of the mass strikes have not improved.
Ryno Filander, a worker and leader of the committee on Wonderfontein farm outside Robertson, says that on some farms workers, who participated in the strikes, had been isolated and discriminated against.
“It was very painful for me to see some of the workers receive Pick n Pay vouchers for Christmas and for others (those who are known to have participated in the strike) to be overlooked.
“Such experiences make the people very frustrated. These are the sort of things that lead to the strike in the first place. In the new year, we have to organise and – if needs be – strike again to bring attention to our conditions. Because nothing has changed.”
Filander’s employer, Paul Marais, admitted to the Cape Argus that Christmas bonuses had been withheld from some workers who had participated in the strike.
“They brought business to a standstill and the farm suffered significant financial losses as a result.”
Marais said it did not make sense to reward people for going on strike.
In De Doorns, community activist Owen Maromo said jobs were shed on many farms in the table-grape-growing valley since December.
Maromo lost his job as a farm worker for facilitating striking workers in September.
“On some farms they are paying more (R90 a day), but this has come only after some of the workforce were dismissed. It means that the remaining workers have to work harder for that little extra money.”
Andrews, who is also the director of the Mawubuye Land Rights Forum said the coalition was working on an urban-rural awareness campaign that would force people in towns and cities to remain sensitive to the ongoing plight of farmworkers in the province.
“During the holiday season, we want people to understand that the food they enjoy with their families is produced by people who are suffering. They don’t enjoy the same privileges, and still live in dire conditions.”
Cosatu called off the farm workers’ strike on December 4, an announcement which was widely criticised by farmworkers whom the Cape Argus interviewed.
Their main concern was not whether calling off the strike was appropriate or not. Many farmworkers took exception to Cosatu’s lack of communication and consultation with workers in making such a decision.
Andrews said strengthening workers’ committees – like the self-organisation of leadership among workers – would be a priority in the new year.
She said many workers were not unionised or organised into representative structures – a stumbling block to the efficacy of collective bargaining.
Another objective for the new year would be to set up a system, modelled on the Treatment Action Campaign’s toll-free line, to monitor the roll-out of antiretroviral drugs in the public-health sector.
“We envisage a number that farm workers can call to report illegal evictions, labour abuses and other complaints. This way we will have reliable statistics to present to commercial agriculture.” - Cape Argus