15 November 2012

South Africa: Union Calls for Strike Support

Photo: Werner Beukes/SAPA
Police on standby (file photo): The strike which began among grape-pickers in the Hex River Valley turned and resulted in a confrontation with police.

Johannesburg — Catering union Saccawu on Thursday called for support for farmworkers in the Western Cape, to strengthen the "fight for better wages".

"Same as the miners, farmworkers earn low wages, work under horrendous atmosphere (sic) and live in appalling conditions," the SA Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers' Union said in a statement.

Grape harvesters in the Hex River Valley had been protesting for more than a week about their wages, demanding R150 a day. Most earned between R69 and R75 a day, with R80 being the highest and only offer from farmers so far.

Sixteen towns in the province had been affected by the protests, which included blocking roads and burning tyres.

On Wednesday the labour department announced a two-week suspension of the strike. Workers agreed to this on condition that the Employment Condition Commission look at the bargaining council for agriculture.

This meant the R70 daily minimum wage for farmworkers would be renegotiated.

The Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) assured the department that workers had been consulted on the agreement and would abide by it, and not resort to violence and vandalism.

Western Cape premier Helen Zille's call for the military to be brought in to protect farmers, and not workers, was meant merely to protect the rich and disregarded workers, the union federation said.

"It is the system of commercial and capitalist agriculture that is anarchic, and continually seeks to drive wages down and erode living standards."

The strike confirmed the need for a legislated national minimum wage to address poverty and inequality, Cosatu said.

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