Katishi Masemola

AROUND 1500 striking farmworkers are expected to return to work in De Doorns this week, the Food and Allied Workers' Union (Fawu) said today.

General secretary Katishi Masemola said a call had been made for workers to trickle back to farms from tomorrow, in the spirit of ongoing negotiations for a higher daily wage.

“We call on all willing workers to be allowed back to work and those who dwell on farms to be allowed back to their residences. In short, no worker should be dismissed and all dismissals should be nullified.”

Masemola said the decision was made during a mass meeting in the area on Monday night.

Farmworkers in the Western Cape went on strike last year, demanding that the minimum daily wage to be increased from R69 to R150. The strike was suspended in December, but resumed almost two weeks ago in various towns in the province.

There have since been conflicting calls by various unions and community leaders, either for the strike to be suspended, or for the strike to continue until farmers give in to protesters' demands.

Asked if Fawu would extend the call to other towns, Masemola said this depended on the sentiments of workers.

“The problem was that we were having mixed messages and many voices speaking. This can create confusion. We have to meet with our members in these areas first,” he said.

Masemola said the union represented around 1600 farmworkers in De Doorns, although this could increase to 2700 after verifying the applications of new recruits.

He estimated the union's provincial farmworker representation was around 11,000 members.

The agriculture department estimated the number of permanent and seasonal workers in the province at around 200,000.

Masemola said Fawu was awaiting a reply from Hex Valley Table Grape Association chairman Michael Laubscher, on its call for a discussion regarding an agreement for the sub-sector.

“Meanwhile, we hope that the leadership of Bawsi and Allied Workers' Union of SA (Bawusa) will support this call and that all workers or members of both unions and the entire community will embrace this call.”

Bawsi is the Black Association of the Wine and Spirit Industry.

Bawusa general secretary Nosey Pieterse said the strike continued in De Doorns today.

“We are getting a mandate from workers once we give them feedback on what has happened.”

He said a mass meeting would be held in De Doorns, Worcester or Paarl today.

The Employment Conditions Commission (ECC) would hold a “decisive meeting” on Thursday to consider the inputs collated from nationwide farmworkers' public hearings, which were held across the country last year and last week in the Western Cape.

The ECC comprises government representatives, unions, and employers. It advises the minister on wages and other conditions of employment in “vulnerable” sectors.

Labour standards director Titus Mtsweni said on Monday the ECC would submit its report and recommendations to Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant, who would then pronounce on the new minimum wage early in February, barring “unexpected eventualities”.

Wage adjustments would appear in the Government Gazette a day after the announcement.