Cape Town - 130114 - Villiersdorp: strikers gathered at dawn to face off with police who refused to let them into the twon centre. Protesters began to trickle down onto the main road in threes and fours meeting on the main road where they began protesting. The tension continues, with police estimated around 30 strong. picture: THOMAS HOLDER

Cape Town - In a bid to fast-track the farmworkers negotiation process, the Law Society of SA has called on attorneys in the Western Cape to assist farmworkers and farmowners on a pro bono basis.

Despite the latest bout of strike action, the wine industry is expecting growth in international exports this year, said Su Birch, chief executive of Wines of SA.

“We feel cautiously optimistic that, provided there is no serious labour unrest impacting on the harvest in 2013, will see modest growth in exports, particularly to the US, Canada, China, Japan and some African countries,” said Birch.

Last year, 417 million litres of wine were exported. That showed “impressive” growth since 2008, when 407 million litres were exported, Birch said.

She said most wine farmers were paying above the minimum wage of R69. She explained that the wine industry launched a drive last year to get the entire trade accredited for ethical practices.

“We have Fairtrade and Fair for Life wines and we have Wieta-accredited wines,” Birch said, referring to the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association. “The international trade is supporting wines accredited by these organisations, so we don’t believe the boycott will be effective.”

Birch was responding to Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich’s announcement on Sunday that plans for an economic boycott of “bad farmers” in local and international retailers were on the cards.

Neal Quirk, director of operations for Pick n Pay, said the proposed boycott would not affect the retailer as it dealt only with suppliers that complied in full with all provisions of South African labour legislation.

Meanwhile, Cape Orchards Company chairman Gerhard de Kock said his farmworkers were being “held hostage” by Cosatu.

The company represents 12 farms in the De Doorns/Hex River Valley area, which produce about 3 million boxes of table grapes a year. De Kock is one of a group of farmers who held private negotiations with Cosatu over the weekend.

He and other farmers in the area have agreed to pay their workers R105 a day. The workers were happy with the new offer, but were too scared to return to work, he said.

De Kock employs 1 800 people, among them seasonal and permanent workers. He said harvesting season is due to start soon.

ANC Western Cape leader Marius Fransman has pleaded with union members and all parties concerned to suspend the strike and to return to the negotiations table.

The ANC has had “positive discussions” with government leaders in labour and agriculture and has urged them to come to the aid of workers and assist with talks.

Cape Argus