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Western Cape - Wage talks with farmers in the Western Cape have failed, and the farmworker strike will resume on Wednesday, Cosatu announced on Saturday.
Speaking at a press conference, Cosatu regional secretary Tony Ehrenreich said the strikes would continue until demands were met.
The demands include a minimum daily wage of R150 and “coherent land reforms”.
In November last year, table grape workers in De Doorns started striking, protesting wages of around R70 a 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, Women on Farms and the Commercial Stevedoring Agricultural and Allied Workers Union, said last month’s strikes were not organised by the unions. They did, however, undertake to negotiate with the government and Agri-SA on behalf of the workers.
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 Black Association of the Wine and Spirits Industry, 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 demand for a daily wage of R150 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. Fawu added that they were also appealing for an international boycott of the farm produce.
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 payback 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.
Agri-SA has been reported as saying that Cosatu had brought nothing but demands and threats of anarchy to the negotiating table.
The 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 that 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.” - Sunday Independent