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Farmworkers reach wage agreement in Clanwilliam

Jenna Etheridge, Jacques Keet

Farmworkers in Clanwilliam have reached an agreement that could signal the end of the farmworkers' strike in the Western Cape, says Cosatu.

Farmworkers strike in De Doorns. (Gallo)

"We have ... the emergence of a good agreement with the farmers in Clanwilliam which we believe represents a model that will take us close to resolving the dispute sooner [rather] than later," Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) Western Cape secretary Tony Ehrenreich told reporters on Tuesday.

He believed the agreement was a substantial step forward in the negotiations. The Clanwilliam farmers made an offer of R105 a day, which "many of the workers accepted".

The farmers also undertook not to victimise workers and discipline them for participating in the unprotected strike, Ehrenreich said.

"The workers have gone back on that basis. We believe that this model can be applied in all the other towns across the Western Cape and the rest of the country where workers may have come out on strike, and that this model will serve as a settlement," he added.

Western Cape farmworkers went on the wildcat strike last year to demand their daily wage be increased from R69 to R150, and that a coherent land reform programme be implemented.

Should Agri SA back model of the farmers in Clanwilliam, and not victimise or dismiss workers for participating in the strike, there was a "real possibility that the strike would be suspended [on Wednesday] if Agri SA responded by 1pm to the CCMA", he said.

The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration (CCMA) has been facilitating the discussions between farmers and farmworkers.

The Clanwilliam agreement was supported by the labour department and the Food and Allied Workers' Union.

R150 demand too low, says leader
Meanwhile, the Labour Court heard on Tuesday that farmworkers' demands for a daily wage of R150 were too low for survival.

"We are sick and tired of the nonsense of this government. R150 a day is total peanut-butter-and-jelly money," Boland religious leader Marthinus Gouws said at a public hearing in Paarl.

"We want President Jacob Zuma and [Labour] Minister Mildred Oliphant to hear what we say. R150 is not enough," he said, to resounding cheers and applause in the packed Huguenot Hall.

Western Cape farmworkers gathered on Tuesday evening to voice their opinions on the review of the sector's minimum wage. Members of the Building and Allied Workers' Union of South Africa and Sikhule Sonke were in attendance.

Many farmworkers told the department's acting director of labour standards, Titus Mtsweni, that their daily wage of between R69 and R80 was not enough to cover basic costs.

One woman said she struggled to put food on the table and pay creche fees for her children. Quite a few workers said they still lived under apartheid-like conditions, working for hours on end without a break to eat.

Unrecorded proceedings
Mtsweni said the department was hosting an extra week of hearings in the province to help him compile a report for the employment conditions commission. He would make sure these recommendations were in the report.

Gouws questioned why the proceedings were not being recorded electronically. "How can you come to this hearing and ... there is no recording? Only the SABC people are recording here," Gouws asked Mtsweni. "This labour department can't take people for granted. Don't use people on the farms as slaves." 

Mtsweni tried to calm the crowd, saying he was writing everything down.

"South Africa is a very nice country, there is a democracy here," he said to the heckling group. "If you feel the minister did not take everything into consideration, you can take the minister to court."

The first hearing took place in Grabouw on Monday night. Further hearings were scheduled for towns including De Doorns, Robertson, Oudtshoorn, and Vredendal, with venues yet to be finalised.

The strike, by seasonal workers to have their minimum R69 daily wage increased to R150, resumed on Wednesday. It began on August 27 last year and was called off on December 4. – Sapa

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