Union calls for probe into rising food prices

The Food and Allied Workers’ Union (Fawu) has called on the government to probe the increasing prices of basic foodstuffs.

“We believe that the skyrocketing food prices are the result of anti-competitive conduct by the major role players in the food production and supply chain,” Fawu said in a statement on Wednesday.

This includes excessive pricing in the bread industry; the abuse of dominance in the grain-silo industry; and price-fixing in the diary industry, the union said.

“We believe the situation is of such a nature that an urgent commission of inquiry needs to be appointed to establish facts and recommend an appropriate course of action.”

Fawu has not yet approached the government. It intends first raising the issue to a prominent place in the public discourse, said general secretary Katishi Masemola.

A South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) television news report on Tuesday said that grocers had seen an 80% increase on prices for fresh vegetables in the past year.

A trader in Port Elizabeth told the national broadcaster the cost of a bag of cabbages had risen from R18 to R30. Another trader, in Walmer, said prices were the highest she could remember.
Her customers would not pay R7 or R8 a cabbage.

While the increase was put down to extreme weather conditions playing havoc with farmers’ crops, the SABC reported that prices were expected to rise even more on the back of the latest petrol-price increase.

Price probe

Masemola said Fawu will make its submission for a price probe to the ministries of agriculture and land affairs, and trade and industry.

He said the Competition Commission started investigations about six months ago into the prices of bread and milk. These are yet to be finalised.

However, Fawu believes the seriousness of the matter warrants an “overarching” investigation into all food prices, which will have to include competition authorities, trade unions and civil society organisations.

“It’s about time the issue [of food prices] is looked at in a structured way,” said Masemola.

In its statement, Fawu said it believes the nationalising of some companies in the food-production and supply chain, as well as the establishment of state-owned enterprises in the value-chain, would help address the problem.

According to Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) figures, the price of a loaf of white bread rose from R4,79 in June 2006 to R5,30 in June 2007; a kilogram of rice cost R6,34 in 2006 and R7,08 in 2007; and a kilogram of samp went up from R3,79 last year to R4,63 this year.

Stats SA recorded an increase in the price of a litre of fresh milk from R5,12 in June 2006 to R6,01 in June 2007, while the price of a kilogram of white sugar went from R6,68 to R7,07.

Fawu is an affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, whose president, Willie Madisha, said in June that the price of meat had risen more than R8 in the preceding 12 months. Addressing striking public-service employees, Madisha said workers could no longer afford to buy bread, petrol or maize meal.

The government departments could not be reached for comment late on Wednesday afternoon.—Sapa

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