Cape Town - First day of the Harvesting at the popular Longridge wine estate in Stellenbosch farm workers during the Grape harvesting on the farm.Picture Cindy waxa.Reporter Week end Argus

Ann Crotty

Following the recent return to work by striking workers, it appears that record volumes of grapes are now being harvested in the Hex River Valley.

The latest industry statistics reveal that a record crop of 1.5 million cartons was harvested in the second week of this month.

The record harvest level, which has been assisted by favourable weather conditions, has resulted in capacity utilisation at packhouses running at about 92 percent.

However, while farmers and farmworkers have been working hard to make up the backlog suffered as a result of the protest action, it appears that there have been considerable delays in shipping the product to international markets. Windy conditions in early February prevented ships from entering or leaving Cape Town harbour for up to eight days.

It is unclear whether these delays will have affected the quality of the fruit or led to any loss of market share in the important markets of mainland Europe and the UK. Industry sources said that any delays at this time of year ran the risk of allowing Chilean suppliers to move in and replace South African suppliers.

In its proposal to establish a development plan for the industry, the SA Table Grape Industry has called for the government to play a more active role in developing the infrastructure necessary to support a strong growth in exports. The industry noted that there could be delays of up to three weeks in Durban due to congestion.

Meanwhile, community groups in De Doorns said they were continuing to meet with workers to inform them of the recent announcement by the Department of Labour that the minimum wage for the farming sector had been increased to R105 a day.

Mercia Andrews of the Trust for Community Outreach and Education told Business Report this week that many workers on the farms across the region were uncertain or did not know about the department’s decision to hike the minimum wage.

“There was only one announcement on television and the workers don’t often get access to newspapers, so there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Andrews said.

She said one of the major challenges was the difficulty of communicating with people who worked on the farms either as permanent staff or on a seasonal basis.

Andrews said the protest action had not finished and workers would march to Parliament on March 2.

She said community organisations and trade unions were doing extensive research into the pay and working conditions on the farms with a view to challenging some of the assumptions and conclusions that had been made by non-labour organisations.