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Farm public hearings to get underway

Sapa-AP

Public hearings will begin this week to gather the opinions of farmworkers and their employers on labour conditions.

Farm workers in De Doorns went on strike this month in demand for better wages. (Gallo)

Spokesperson Page Boikanyo said the first hearing would be held for Western Cape farmworkers on Thursday November 22 at 6pm in Worcester.

Farmers in the province would attend a separate hearing at the Worcester town hall at 10am on Friday.

According to a schedule on the department's website, hearings would take place in KwaZulu-Natal on November 24, Limpopo on December 6, Free State on December 8, North West on December 9, Northern Cape on December 11, Mpumalanga on December 12, the Eastern Cape, and Gauteng on December 13.

Sixteen Western Cape towns were hit by violent protests this month over farming wages and working conditions, resulting in two deaths and extensive damage to property.

The protests started with table grape harvesters in De Doorns, who were calling for wages of R150 a day.

Most earned between R69 and R75 a day.

Workers agreed to suspend their strike until December 4, on condition that the Employment Condition Commission look at the sectoral determination for agriculture.

Minimum wage negotiations
The commission advises Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant on wages and other conditions of employment.

As part of the strike suspension agreement, Oliphant published her intention to cancel the current sectoral determination, which sets minimum monthly wages at R1 503.90.

The department also published a notice of an investigation into the farm sector on November 15, inviting interested parties to make written representations before the end of the month.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) in the Western Cape said various parties were meeting in Cape Town on Thursday morning to negotiate wages and working conditions, under the auspices of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich said Agri SA was among those representing farmers in the negotiations, while Cosatu and others were representing workers.

A labour department official would sit in on the meeting, being held at the provincial labour office from 10am.

Oliphant's spokesperson Musa Zondi said the minister would not be in attendance as the CCMA was facilitating on labour's behalf. "The agenda is to have a joint submission between the two parties, business and labour/employee representatives for submission to the [employment commission]," he said.

"What the parties agree on forms part of what is presented to the hearings."

Once the hearings had been concluded, the commission would compile a document and make recommendations to Oliphant. – Sapa

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