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Cape Town - Unions in the agriculture sector have threatened more strike action if farmers undermine the minimum wage and dismiss workers.
The minimum wage of R105 a day, announced by Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant on February 4, will come into effect next month.
This came after farmworkers in the Boland went on a three-month strike demanding R150 a day and better working and living conditions. Many were earning the R69 current minimum wage. Unions say farmers are using the new minimum wage as as an excuse to dismiss workers.
At a government-arranged meeting last week, farmers said the R105 was not affordable and would lead to job losses. Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe assured them the government would help. He said those who were not able to pay the amount could apply for an exemption.
“Cosatu is concerned about an orchestrated political attempt by farmers to circumvent and undermine new minimum wages. These concerns are borne out by threats of retrenchment even before applying for exemptions. This is their way of fighting new minimum wages in principle,” Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich said.
The government should expropriate farms where owners refused to co-operate, he said.
“These farms could then be put into partnership by farmworkers. Should farmers not heed this warning, the Western Cape agriculture sector could see a return to strike action on the farms.”
Food and Allied Workers’ Union general secretary Katishi Masemola said the union would not support a call for a blanket strike but targeting farmers “hell bent” on undermining the minimum wage.
“It is the rotten potatoes that should be dealt with. We can’t just call strikes against farmers (who) are law abiding, even if that call is made by Cosatu,” Masemola said.
The union was aware of workers who had been been dismissed in the province, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
Bawsi Agricultural Workers’ Union of SA head Nosey Pieterse said the the union was negotiating with farmers to reinstate more than 200 workers dismissed for taking part in the strike. “It is because of this blatant undermining of the law that we would support Cosatu’s call.”