Johannesburg - Western Cape farmers appealed to the labour department in a public hearing on Friday to bring stability to agriculture, an official said.

Department spokesman Page Boikanyo said farmers who attended the hearing in Worcester expressed concern that their lives and jobs could be lost if the farming strike resumed on December 4.

Director general Nkosinathi Nhleko met farmers on Friday as part of a string of public hearings to gather opinions on farming wages and working conditions in the sector.

The sectoral determination for agriculture is being reviewed following recent violent protests in 16 Western Cape towns about working conditions.

The protests started with table grape harvesters in De Doorns, who called for wages of R150 a day. Most earn between R69 and R75 a day.

Workers agreed to suspend their strike until December 4 on condition that the Employment Conditions Commission (ECC) look at the sectoral determination.

Boikanyo said Western Cape farmers said they could not afford the workers' demand of R150 a day.

“One farmer went as far as to appeal to church, political, labour and all civic leaders to be concerned about what’s going to happen to this province,” Boikanyo said.

“At the same time, he urged farmers to be prepared to defend their farms... people and property.”

Nhleko was asked to forward farmers' concerns to President Jacob Zuma and Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant.

He reminded farmers that their problems could be resolved by talking.

“As the department, we have committed ourselves to assist parties to talk,” Nlheko said.

The next public hearings take place in Boston, KwaZulu-Natal, on Saturday.

According to a schedule on the department's website, hearings take place in Limpopo on December 6, in the Free State on December 8, the North West on December 9, the Northern Cape on December 11, Mpumalanga on December 12 and the Eastern Cape and Gauteng on December 13. - Sapa