15 November 2012

South Africa: Farmworkers Expected to Return to Work

Cape Town — Farmworkers in the Western Cape are expected to return to work today after government on Wednesday announced that worker groups and labour unions had suspended their strike.

The industrial action has affected the wine industry in De Doorns and 15 other Western Cape towns.

"The successful return of all farmworkers to their places of employment will not only benefit the production of food security in the Western Cape, but also in the entire country," said acting Labour Minister Angie Motshekga at a briefing in Cape Town on Wednesday.

Also present at the briefing were the Ministers of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Tina Joemat- Pettersson and Trade and Industry Rob Davies, who had returned from a foreign trip earlier in the day.

Asked if the agreement would hold, Motshekga said that workers, who were not unionised, had called in trade union federation Cosatu when the strike began to facilitate discussions with government and employers.

"On the basis of a commitment workers gave to Cosatu, the strike has been suspended," affirmed Motshekga.

She lauded Cosatu, its Western Cape secretary-general Tony Ehrenreich, the Western Cape government, Premier Helen Zille and workers' representatives for the role they played in brokering the suspension of industrial action.

Unrest in the farming community in the Western Cape started two weeks ago when workers, who earn R70 per day, went on strike demanding higher wages.

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant, who is overseas, will publish within a week a notice indicating an intention to call on all interested parties to comment on the possibility of changing the sectoral determination, which kept workers' wages at their present level.

The Employment Condition Commission will also meet next Wednesday to discuss the matter of the sectoral determination before making recommendations to the Minister of Labour.

Government will also meet with its legal team to discuss the implications emanating from the process.

"We will get a report back from the facilitators before the end of the two weeks and a report will be prepared for Cabinet next week," Motshekga said.

During their industrial action, farm workers have clashed with police and also blocked the N1 highway near De Doorns. Shops have also been looted and some vineyards were burned.

Motshekga said in the context of poverty, government understood the frustration and anger people felt. However, government "nevertheless calls on strikers to desist from looting, destroying property and violence following the unfortunate loss of life of a worker in Wolseley earlier today," she said.

She said the triple challenge of inequality, unemployment and poverty would never be addressed unless the lives of farmworkers were changed for the better.

Government also called for an end to violence and appealed to farmworkers to give it a chance to attend to their demands.

Motshekga said government had done everything in its power to bring farmers, their representatives, and farmworkers together for negotiations.

"We remain committed and willing to facilitate further discussions in efforts to create a peaceful environment where common needs can be made."

Davies cautioned the wine industry that wine importers would draw a link between the product they were buying and the manner in which farmers were treating workers.

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