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Joemat-Pettersson to ask Zuma for higher farm worker wages

Sapa

Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson is expected to meet President Jacob Zuma to get his support for higher wages for farm workers.

Farm workers in the Western Cape, had been protesting for a week over their wages, demanding a living wage of R150 a day. (Gallo)

"The minister was asked by the farm workers to intervene and to speak to the president to escalate their demands," her spokesperson Palesa Mokomela said.

"Joemat-Pettersson will basically act as their messenger when she hopefully meets with President Zuma today. She will ask the government to re-determine the wages of farm workers."

Business Day reported on Wednesday that Joemat-Pettersson told workers she would tell the president that the call of the farm workers could no longer be ignored and that she would also go to the labour minister to discuss sectoral determinations.

Presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj said he was aware of the proposed meeting, but would not comment as it was an internal matter.

Grape harvesters in the Hex River Valley, in the Western Cape, have been protesting for a week over their wages, demanding R150 a day. Most earn between R69 and R75 a day, with R80 being the highest offer from farmers.

According to reports on Wednesday, protests were taking place in 16 towns. Several workers had been arrested for public violence.

Calls for intervention
On Wednesday morning, Joemat-Pettersson called on the labour department to intervene in the Western Cape farm workers' strike.

"I have no capacity to advise or influence the employment conditions commission," she told SAfm.

"That is a matter for the department of labour or the minister of labour. We have done what we could as the department of agriculture and we will continue supporting workers."

She said she had helped "restore relationships" between striking farm workers and farmers.

"I think we've [the department] acted as a facilitator to allow that these negotiations and talks stay on track ... We cannot afford this sector to lose jobs ... that is why we decided to participate in normalising the situation."

Escalating violence, vandalism
"We call on all workers to stop the violence, to stop the vandalism," the minister said on SAfm.

Western Cape police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Andre Traut said the largest disruptions were in De Doorns, Ceres, Robertson, Prince Alfred Hamlet and Somerset West.

Police had erected roadblocks, detours and barricades in areas for the public's protection.

On Tuesday, a policeman had to be hospitalised after being hit on the head by a stone thrown by a protester. On Monday, 10 people were arrested for public violence and intimidation.

In the Western Cape's Witzenburg municipality, protesting farm workers had caused damaged estimated at R500 000, municipal spokesperson Anette Radjoo said on Tuesday. "Property damage has been sustained including the destruction of a packing shed, veld fires, damage to farming crops, burning of tyres in streets and throwing of stones," she said.

Call for wine boycott
Meanwhile, the ANC in the Eastern Cape called for the boycott of South African wines on Tuesday.

Eastern Cape ANC spokesperson Mlibo Qoboshiyane said people would be supporting workers' exploitation if they continued buying South African-produced wine.

"Next time people binge on wines from the Western Cape, they must know that they support exploitation of black workers," he said.

Qoboshiyane said farmers could afford to pay the workers what they wanted.

"The South African wine industry is making a lot of money locally and internationally; therefore, the wage demands of the workers are realistic and can be met by the employers."

He said Western Cape Premier Helen Zille was failing to back the workers because farm owners were financing the Democratic Alliance—the party she leads.

"The people of the Western Cape deserve a better leader than Zille," he said.

Earlier, Zille wrote a letter to President Jacob Zuma, asking him to intervene in the crisis. – Sapa

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