Pretoria — Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant on Tuesday said she was optimistic that negotiators in the farm wage dispute will avert the looming wave of industrial action in the farming sector in the Western Cape.
Addressing a media briefing in Pretoria today, Oliphant encouraged employers and the unions in the farming sector to engage in constructive negotiations to resolve the wage dispute.
"Nothing yet has proven to work better than the ability to negotiate and reach consensus," she said.
Oliphant said her department recognised that farmworkers were among some of the most vulnerable workers and that it was their duty to support them.
The minister was concerned about the prospect of job losses in the farming sector, given that employers said they could not afford to pay the workers higher wages. According to Oliphant, farmworkers are due for an increase on 1 April next year.
Oliphant said the current sectoral determination for farmworkers was reviewed in March 2012 and would have been in place until the end of February 2015.
The workers, whose basic salary is currently at R70 per day, are demanding higher wages. However, the recent industrial action has been marred by incidents of violence such as clashes with the police, looting of shops and in some instances, the burning of vineyards.
Oliphant has strongly condemned the violence, saying that should another strike happen as feared by farmers, there will be no tolerance for acts of violence.
Strikes in the farming sector started in the Western Cape on a farm near De Doorns in August, when a group of workers walked off the job, demanding better wages. The protests then spread to other areas.
In a bid to try to end the strike, the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries convened an urgent meeting with the employers to persuade them to be open for negotiations.
Meanwhile, the Labour Department is conducting public hearings designed to come up with a solution to the strikes in the farming sector.