A woman protester shouts out as she and others protest against low wages paid by farmers, by burning tires in the township at Franschhoek, South Africa, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012. Protesting farm worker in the Western Cape wine region have been protesting the past three weeks against the minimun wage of 69 rand ($8) per day, asking for 150 rand ($13) per day. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

Cape Town - The Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (Sactwu) has pledged R1million to the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) to recruit farmworkers.

Factory workers and organisers are to help unionise thousands of farmworkers in De Doorns and other towns hit by strikes.

It is the first time Sactwu has taken action outside its industry, the union’s national organising secretary, Bonita Loubser, says.

The union is to begin by sending 30 members to De Doorns to help its sister union, Fawu, recruit members.

Both are affiliates of Cosatu.

“It will be different from our usual recruitment in factories, because access to farms and workers can be controlled, but we will go door-to-door to recruit,” said Loubser.

She said Sactwu would help Fawu set up an office in De Doorns.

Loubser said Sactwu would disburse the money to Fawu within weeks.

“We just had the discussion this weekend to help unionise farmworkers, but we want to go to the farms as soon as possible,” she said.

Loubser said the recruitment drive in the Western Cape was a test case for their union members on how to recruit farmworkers across the country.

Department of Labour spokesman Musa Zondi said only 5 percent of farmworkers were unionised. Loubser said 85 percent of textile and clothing workers were members of a union.

Hex Valley Table Grape chairman Michael Laubscher said farmers were not opposed to workers being organised.

“It will be better for farmers and farmworkers to have one contact point, but we still feel that wage negotiations should happen from farm to farm because no (two farms are) the same,” he said.

The Hex River Valley has been a hotbed of protests since farmworkers took to the streets against low wages in November.

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant is increasing the minimum wage for agriculture by more than 50 percent, from R69 a day to R105, with effect from March 1.

Agri SA has since warned of layoffs in the agriculture sector, with farmers in Limpopo issuing retrenchment notices to 2 000 workers.

Laubscher also warned that farmers would look at shorter employment periods for seasonal workers and plant less labour intensive cultivars of grapes to deal with the higher wage bill.

Fawu general secretary Katishi Masemola says farmers should not be party to knee-jerk reactions and unduly retrench or victimise their workers.

Masemola said the union would try to negotiate with farmers to reach an agreement to avoid retrenchments.

“We hope that those farm owners who are truly experiencing cash-flow challenges will take advantage of… minister of (labour’s offer) of a reprieve based on financial information provided.”

Zondi said some farmers had approached the minister for an exemption to the minimum, but he couldn’t say how many.

[email protected]

Cape Times