Farn Workers´ Strike Update!
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Wolseley farm workers return to work
16.nov.2012 | Staff writer
Workers agree to suspend strike for two weeks, pending decision on minimum wage, while protesters in Hex River Valley loot shops and blockade roads
ABOUT 300 farm workers who went on strike in Wolseley in the Western Cape returned to work on Friday, the South Africa National Civic Organisation (Sanco) in the province said.
Provincial general secretary Vusi Myeki said the workers had agreed to suspend the strike for at least two weeks until a decision was made on the farm workers’ minimum wage.
Protests over wages in the Western Cape spread across the Boland, with table grape harvesters demanding to be paid R150 a day. Most earn between R69 and R75 a day. The strike was continuing in other areas of the province.
On Friday protesters looted shops and torched businesses in the Hex River Valley in the Western Cape. In the morning, roads including the N2 were blockaded with rocks and burning tyres.
“We have received reports of unrest and torching of businesses but the situation is under control,” Western Cape police spokesman Lt-Col Andre Traut said.
eNews Channel Africa reported that protesters looted a bottle store and that a butchery was torched in Swellendam on Thursday night and Friday morning.
Agri SA said the farmers should be allowed to decide what action to take against their illegally striking workers.
“Lawlessness and criminal activities cannot be tolerated and the culprits must be held accountable via normal prosecution processes,” Agri SA labour committee chairman Anton Rabe said. He said affected parties should work together to restore business confidence and peace of mind so the country’s image could be restored.
Farm workers refuse to return to work
November 16 2012 at 08:00am
The majority of seasonal farm workers across the Hex River Valley rejected Cosatu’s call for a return to work yesterday, and the situation across the region remained tense with continuing violent flare-ups in Swellendam and around Ceres.
Analysts said yesterday that the situation for the farmers would become critical as the harvesting period approached. At present, seasonal workers are required to prune the grapes and prepare for the harvesting, which begins early in the new year.
The hostile response to Cosatu’s call was attributed to poor communication by the unions involved and suspicions that the government would not deliver on its undertaking to increase the minimum wage rate.
Mercia Andrews, who is an organiser with Women on Farms and is involved in the committee that is co-ordinating the demand that seasonal workers be paid R150 a day, told Business Report last night that many people had misunderstood the terms of the agreement underpinning the suspension of the strike.
“The feedback we are getting is that the farm workers have rejected the call to suspend the strike and they are questioning the agreement process. It appears that many of the workers were particularly unhappy about agreeing to return to work at a daily rate of R80,” Andrews said.
Late yesterday, Andrews said members of the co-ordinating committee had just finished a meeting at which it had been decided to visit all the areas involved in the strike activity and “determine what the people there want”.
In De Doorns, where violence flared up on Wednesday evening following a meeting to discuss the terms of the suspension of the strike, protesters told Business Report that they would not return to work for a rate of R80 a day.
“It is very tense today, nobody went to work, we are still waiting for our R150,” one De Doorns worker said.
The majority of workers in Robertson also refused to heed the call to return to the farms. Enoch Welile Hohlo, an organiser with Mawubuye, told Business Report that there was a lot of confusion about the agreement, as there had been little feedback from the unions.
“We need to sit down and inform the people what is going on… to restore order. The people want to know that negotiations are continuing and that this is not just another empty promise from government.”
Welile Hohlo, who has some reservations about the affordability of the R150 demand, added that the call to return to work at the R80 rate had not been well received by the workers. “If they said R100 it would make a difference.”
Meanwhile, Cosatu has dismissed calls by Premier Helen Zille for the army to be deployed as emotional and said: “The army cannot solve a problem caused by low wages and exploitative conditions of employment.”
South African farm workers’ strikes inspired by events at Marikana
By Joshua Lumet and Iqra Qalam
16 November 2012
Militant struggles among South Africa’s impoverished workers have spread to the Western Cape province’s farms, following on months of upheavals in the mining industry. The farm workers’ strikes started two weeks ago in the picturesque Boland town of De Doorns, some 90 miles outside of Cape Town, prompted by a dispute on the Keurboschkloof farm. Subsequently, the militant struggles have spread like wildfire throughout the province.
Wednesday, November 14, saw the strikes spread to the towns of Porterville, Saron and Wolseley. Michael Daniels, a 27-year-old worker, was shot dead, allegedly in a confrontation with the South African Police Services (SAPS).
Farm workers, most of whom have lived all of their lives in the area and toil for long hours for a wage of only R70 ($7.85) per day, say they were inspired by recent events in the mining industry. They are demanding a wage of R150 ($16.90) per day.
On 16 August, police shot and killed 34 workers at the Marikana mine outside Johannesburg, belonging to the British-based platinum mining company Lonmin. The massacre, which also saw countless rock drillers injured and hundreds arrested, led to Lonmin agreeing to pay workers significant salary increases, but still short of the R12,500 they asked for. The increases did, however, lead to workers in the Boland farming region deciding to down tools in the fight for a living wage.
Muriel Sitholo, a 44-year-old mother of four who has lived and worked all her life on the Bella Vista farm belonging to S. L. Jordaan said, “I was born in this area and it is one of the most fertile lands you can find anywhere; the farmers are very wealthy. There is no way they cannot afford to pay us more than the R70 we currently earn. We just cannot survive and that is why we are brave in doing what we are doing, even though it is dangerous. Workers in South Africa don’t earn enough for what we do, and that goes all the way back to the days of Apartheid.”
She agreed that events at Marikana galvanized workers to start the strikes in the Boland. The strikes have spread to other areas in the Western Cape province and authorities have called on workers to end the strike as negotiations between the African National Congress (ANC) government and representatives of the workers, some of whom are affiliated to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), continue.
Justin Pieterse, the son of Nosey Pieterse, the executive president of the Black Association for the Agricultural Sector (Bawsi), agrees that as was the case at Marikana and other mines, workers have started to form their own representative groups and have started to steer away from the control of the existing unions like COSATU. Added Ashlin Thomas, “The unions can say what they want, but here we are all equal and every person wants the same thing, so each worker is a leader in his own right.”
In the mining sector, thousands of workers brought mines to a standstill when they decided that the unions were in cahoots with the ANC government and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in protecting the interests of the mining companies.
Justin Pieterse continued, “So far the farmers have offered us R80 per day, which is a slap in the face. We will continue to strike until our demand for R150 per day is met. It doesn’t really matter what the authorities say because some workers are not going according to the unions and, in a way, each worker wants to fight for a better life.”
The Western Cape is ruled by the right-wing opposition party, the Democratic Alliance. Workers in the City of Cape Town, disillusioned with the ANC, voted the DA into power in 2006, expecting a dramatic improvement in their quality of life. This never transpired; instead deepening unemployment, the rising cost of living and real wage decreases have exacerbated poverty even further. Despite their parliamentary antics, the ANC and the DA have two things in common—their commitment to big business and brazen hostility towards the working class.
The DA’s Western Cape Premier Helen Zille yesterday called on President Jacob Zuma to deploy the army to the towns that had been affected by the strikes.
The ANC and COSATU have viewed the unrest as an opportunity to dislodge the DA from the Western Cape. Fear that the militant struggles can spread to the urban centers of the Western Cape have prompted Zille to call on ANC provincial leader Marius Fransman to remove politics from the labour dispute, urging him to repudiate some of the “incitement” COSATU had spread by earlier describing the protests as “Marikana comes to the farms.”
In an attempt to defuse the situation, Minister of Labour Mildred Oliphant, who is currently overseas, will publish a notice in the Government Gazette next week canceling the existing sectorial determination that sets the minimum wage for farm workers at R70 a day. Announcing the deal, Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, flanked by acting Labour Minister Angie Motshekga and her trade and industry counterpart Minister Rob Davies, said the Employment Conditions Commission would meet next week to decide on the basic level of pay for Western Cape farm workers.
Minister Joemat-Pettersson has at the same time called for an end to the strike in the De Doorns area. “The farm workers’ unions said they were willing to abandon the strikes for two weeks until a solution to the wage issue was found,” Minister Joemat-Pettersson said in a statement on Tuesday night. Joemat-Pettersson also called on the labour department to intervene in the strike.
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 to stay on track. … We cannot afford this sector to lose jobs … that is why we decided to participate in normalising the situation.”
Although she said that farm workers’ unions had agreed to suspend the strike, most workers at De Doorns and other areas rubbished her claim. Said Justin Pieterse: “We will really only stop this action once they (the authorities and the farmers) have agreed to pay us the R150 per day we are asking for.”
Farm workers are being threatened with the prospect of job losses as a result of their militant struggle. They are being warned that their pay demand will adversely affect the “international competitiveness” of the farming industry. However, the majority of farm workers maintained that, like their counterparts in the mining industry, only a successful pay increase would stop the strikes.
Said Bernard Msongo, a 22-year-old immigrant worker from Zimbabwe, “Of course this issue is in the end really just about the fact that workers do not earn enough to make a good living. It is about the poor workers versus the rich farmers and the workers are far more than the farmers; we are different classes of people and it shows if you look how wealthy those farmers are in this area.”
The militant struggle in the Boland is the struggle of the poor masses in South Africa, the most unequal country in the world, fighting for a better life. In the Western Cape, the unemployment rate is now 29.3 percent, the cost of living is soaring and wages are decreasing. Displaying their disillusionment with the bourgeois politicians of the DA and ANC, and their lackeys in COSATU, farm workers, like their mine worker counterparts, are coming into direct conflict with state security forces.
Said Edward Gege, a worker who was born in the area and has worked the farms for the last 30 years: “There are a lot of issues at stake here. Some people like the politicians want to make it all about them and the unions, but it is actually just about the workers who are being exploited.
“And if the farmers and government cannot come back to us and say we will pay you more money, the strikes will continue, whether COSATU is helping us or not, or whether government said they have deals on the table or not, it does not matter. What matters is that we have the money in our pockets and everyone knows that.”
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