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Cosatu: We are calling the farmworkers' strike off

Jenna Etheridge

The Western Cape farmworkers' strike has been called off, says the trade union federation's provincial secretary general Tony Ehrenreich.

Cosatu's Tony Ehrenreich. (Gallo)

"On the advice of workers, we are calling off the strike actions in all areas, so that workers can evaluate the victories that they have gained, and plan more carefully for the way forward," Ehrenreich said on Tuesday.

He said Cosatu would be co-ordinating "the mother of all strikes against bad farmers" later in the year, should no agreement be reached on a better daily wage, decent farm conditions and a comprehensive land reform plan.

Farmworkers went on strike last year, demanding that the minimum daily wage to be increased from R69 to R150. The strike was suspended in December, but resumed a few weeks ago in various towns in the province.

Cosatu suspended the strike a week ago on condition that farmers' organisation Agri SA agreed not to victimise workers and committed to "local-level" agreements.

At the time, the union federation said the strike would resume this week should these conditions not be met.

Motion of no confidence
On Tuesday, Ehrenreich said while workers wanted to continue with the strike, they had to consider the impact on children who had no food at home.

"We are also mindful of the fact that these industries belong to the people of South Africa, and while we want to ruin bad farmers, we don't want to ruin our industries."

Cosatu claimed Agri SA repeatedly rejected its offer of "peace, friendship and a new industry plan".

"It is this short-sightedness from Agri SA that has seen a motion of no confidence in the president of Agri SA being considered."

Agri SA president Johannes Möller said anyone in his organisation was more than welcome pass a motion of no confidence in him.

"I might even, at the next round of meetings we have, consider asking the council of Agri SA to consider it," he told the media.

A way forward
He said the employer body intended finding a way forward in agriculture, agreeing that R70 a day in wages was not enough.

The organisation was waiting for the pronouncement on the new minimum wage early in February, with effect from March 1.

In the meantime, it had contacted the International Labour Organisation to see if it could offer assistance through its decent work country programme.

Möller said he was cautiously optimistic at Cosatu's calling off of the strike, considering the damage to income from both sides.

"We are still getting conflicting reports on whether everybody is in agreement on whether the strike is off or not."

The Food and Allied Workers' Union announced on Tuesday that around 1 500 farmworkers were expected to start trickling back to work from Wednesday in De Doorns, the epicentre of strike action.

Asked if the food union would extend the call to other towns, general secretary Katishi Masemola said this depended on the sentiments of workers.

"The problem was that we were having mixed messages and many voices speaking. This can create confusion. We have to meet with our members in these areas first."

Public violence complaint
The Building and Allied Workers' Union of South Africa said on Tuesday morning that the strike continued in De Doorns.

General secretary Nosey Pieterse said meetings would be held in De Doorns, Worcester, or Paarl on Tuesday evening.

Civil rights group AfriForum laid a public violence complaint against Pieterse at the Lyttelton police station in Centurion, Gauteng, on Tuesday morning.

AfriForum's investigation unit head Nantes Kelder said they had found Pieterse was the central figure in the strike after visiting the affected areas at the end of last year.

"Pieterse still continues with the unprotected strike, knowing full well that it has become violent. According to AfriForum, he is therefore guilty of a criminal offence and he must take responsibility for his actions," Kelder said.

AfriForum encouraged farmers to bring claims for damages against Pieterse and Cosatu.

Pieterse was not immediately available to comment. – Sapa

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