21 November 2012

South Africa: Farmer Accused of Cutting Electricity and Food Credit to Break Strike

Cape Town — Seventy employees at Leeuwenkuil Farm refused to work for five days until five of their colleagues were reinstated, according to the Commerical Stevedoring Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU).

Employees took part in the agricultural general strike on 13 November in support of the De Doorns protests. Following this, five farm worker leaders were suspended for striking and the remaining employees refused to go back to work until the five were reinstated.

The De Doorns protests began at least as far back as August. GroundUp covered the story of a De Doorns farm at the centre of the protests on 5 September.

The strikes have escalated in recent months as has violence between farm workers and farmers. Recently farm workers began calling for a wage of R150 per day. Many are paid little over the minimum wage of R69. Two men have been killed and many more injured.

The union CSAAWU has claimed that Leeuwenkuil workers' electricity and credit was cut off to force them back to work. Farm owner Willie Dreyer neither denied nor confirmed these developments but said that he had invited the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) onto the farm to investigate these allegations and would share their report when it was available.

A CSAAWU spokesperson responded that Dreyer did not invite CCMA onto the farm. She said the union approached the Human Rights Commission on the workers' behalf and the commission in turn put pressure on the CCMA to visit the farm. The CCMA visited the farm on Friday 16 November along with Lawyers for Human Rights to investigate these allegations.

Candidate Attorney Cindy Williams at the Stellenbosch office of Lawyers for Human Rights said, "We visited there on Friday to assist in the negotiations between the workers and the farm owner." She explained that, "the electricity hadn't technically been cut off but was provided on a credit system and the farm owner had cut off their access to electricity and food credit." She confirmed that on Monday of this week, the suspension of the five farm workers was lifted and workers were again able to access food and electricity on credit, which they then pay for when they receive their wages each month. The 70 employees returned to work the same day.

CSAAWU General Secretary Karel Swart met with The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) on Monday. The LRC's Regional Director Sheldon Magardie said, "We are in the process of assessing what legal action might be necessary." CSAAWU hopes to file a case to the equality court on the grounds of discrimination against workers when they joined the union.

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