Farmers in De Doorns rush to save what they can after protesters started burning down vineyards last month after weeks of wage disputes. More strikes are planned for today. Photo: Henk Kruger

Ann Crotty

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies met with farmworkers in De Doorns last night in a bid to address their grievances over pay and conditions.

Davies said he visited the area, which is his constituency, not because he wanted to try to persuade the workers not to strike, but because he wanted to inform them about what the government was doing, and would continue to do, for them.

Davies said his department and the Department of Agriculture were working on initiatives that would support strategies aimed at improving pay and work conditions on farms.

“The communities will meet tomorrow to decide what to do about strike action, we didn’t try to influence that decision; what the government is doing will happen regardless.”

Davies said that he did point out to the workers that they would get a better deal if they engaged in collective bargaining. He noted that one of the difficulties in dealing with the situation was that the protest action was not organised.

Davies said that one of the key issues that emerged from the “Marikana summit” that had been organised by President Jacob Zuma and involved organised business and labour, was the need to build credibility around collective bargaining. “In the absence of credible collective bargaining, wildcat strikes are inevitable.”

He said that there were plenty of “lose-lose scenarios” facing the sector, referring to the possibility of the total loss of this year’s grape harvest.

Davies said the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Agriculture would be promoting ethical trading and ethical codes of practice in the industry and that this, as well as product quality, would be used as a marketing tool for the region.

One of the seasonal workers in De Doorns said she was heading to a meeting to discuss what to do regarding protests planned for today.

When asked how she and her co-workers would survive if there was no work, she replied: “We will just stay at home… we will give each other something and we just won’t die.”

And as tensions mounted ahead of today’s deadline for action on farmworkers’ wage demands, some farmers were reported to be considering legal action against unions for damages caused by the protests.

However, community leaders said legal action against Cosatu or any union was inappropriate because the workers had initiated the protest action.

Meanwhile, international delegates at a conference in Cape Town suggested that developing countries should re-introduce agricultural marketing boards in a bid to capture a greater share of the value created by primary suppliers in the value chain. Marketing boards, which were dismantled in South Africa in the 1990s under the ANC and in other developing economies under pressure from the World Bank, represented a powerful counter force to European buyers.

A recent report by an academic from UCT revealed that 60 percent of South African table grapes were exported to Europe and that the powerful European retailers captured 42 percent of the final retail price of grapes. Farmers captured only 26 percent.

Other delegates to the “Capturing the gains” conference suggested that retailers be forced to attach “price labels” to products, which would reveal details about wages paid to workers in the value chain. Business Watch, page 14