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'R150 a day or we stay away'

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farm workers dec 3

CAPE ARGUS

Lenie Swart, centre, works on a grape farm and joined fellow farmworkers to demand a minimum wage of R150 in Ashton. File photo by Daneel Knoetze

Cape Town - Farmworkers have reasserted their demand for a daily wage of R150. With no offer from farmers on the table, and with Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant saying a new sectoral determination for a minimum wage would take at least four months, strikes in the agricultural sector are set to resume on Tuesday.

“The farmers have intimidated us with dismissal, but we have gone too far to turn around now. They can’t intimidate us, we have lived under intimidation for 18 years since democracy,” said Merchia Adams of Mawubuye Land Rights, which convened a meeting in Ashton on Sunday.

There would be a complete stayaway on Tuesday.

“People will block the gates of the their respective farms to prevent scab labour from entering,” she added.

Support for a stayaway was also agreed upon at a Women on Farms meeting in De Doorns on Sunday.

Over the weekend, the Cape Argus interviewed a group of workers at the Keurboschkloof export grape farm in De Doorns.

Many workers in De Doorns agree that the successful strike at Keurboschkloof in September was the catalyst for the recent unrest on farms which spread province-wide.

Between September 17 and 22, workers on Keurboschkloof picketed outside the farm gates after being unfairly dismissed for refusing to accept a cut in their wages.

A committee elected by the workers negotiated with a senior stakeholder at SA Fruit Exporters, resulting in about 300 dismissed workers being reinstated.

After the celebration of that victory, workers at Keurboschkloof watched in despair as the strike in De Doorns descended into violence and a competition between two unions - the Cosatu-aligned Fruit and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) and independent Black Association for the Agricultural Sector.

Jesaja Louw, regional chair for Fawu in Worcester, said the competition was inevitable.

Yet, Timothy Ncwana, Fawu’s provincial chairman, condemned a recruitment drive, saying it was “not the right time”.

“First the unions must assist the workers in getting their demands. Then, once they are happy, we can work on signing people up,” he said.

Owen Maromo, an activist with a refugee rights NGO, which advised Keurboschkloof workers during the September strike, said communication from the unions to the people in De Doorns had been lacking since the broad-scale strike began.

Maromo, an upstart politician who had to flee Zanu-PF persecution in Zimbabwe in 2008, said he was fired from a grape farm for his involvement in Keurboschkloof and had been sidelined, intimidated and silenced by “opportunistic politicians” who had claimed to represent the workers.

His disillusionment with ANC councillors was shared by Keurboschkloof worker Cornelia Mtsila who alleged Nelie Barends, an ANC councillor and private labour broker, had tried to bring in scab labourers to undermine the September strike.

“Now he is claiming to represent the workers. This is only a political game to score points for them,” she said.

Barends confirmed he was approached by farmers for scab labour, but said he had been misinformed and that he retracted this scab labour when he found out no agreement had been reached with striking workers.

After a farmworkers’ meeting on the De Doorns sports field on Sunday, where there was no clear leadership present, Maromo broke his silence.

In an argument with Louw, Maromo said unions and politicians had failed the workers. “People are confused. There is no communication, and there are virtually no farmworkers officially representing the cause,” he said. “If workers’ committees and farmers sat down opposite each other from the beginning, this would have been sorted out a long time ago.”

Cosatu said on Sunday that despite unions’ best efforts, it appeared they would not be able to avert the resumption of the strike tomorrow.

“What we know is that workers have called for one day of action across the whole agriculture sector across South Africa on December 4,” it said.

AgriWes Cape declined to comment.

daneel.knoetze@inl.co.za

Cape Argus


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