15 January 2013

South Africa: Cosatu Eastern Cape Press Statement in Support of Farm Workers' Strike

Photo: Kate Stegeman/Daily Maverick
A tense stand-off between police and protestors in Robertson after farmwokers protest turned violent

COSATU Eastern Cape would like to express its full support for farm workers in the Western Cape and elsewhere in their strike for a minimum wage of R150. The first three days of the resumed strike last week saw numerous violent confrontations between police and protesters, cars destroyed, motorists stoned, roads blockaded, numerous injuries and at least 125 arrests across the Boland. Two protestors in De Doorns died during the first round of the strike and several dozen were injured.

Farm workers are amongst the most exploited and downtrodden of all sections of the working class and are often forced to accept low-paid seasonal work, and despite being situated in some of the wealthiest farming areas in the country, often live in unsanitary and inadequate accommodation on and near farms. Many remain unorganised and subject to harsh and sometimes brutal working conditions. Despite the introduction of a new regime of labour legislation since 1994, conditions of employment on many farms continue to resemble those of some of the worst days of apartheid.

The context

The current strike takes place in the context of growing stress faced by workers in many communities across the country. With unemployment growing rapidly since 2008, every employed worker must support a larger and larger group of dependents. Workers are thus increasingly desperate and willing to take more radical steps to improve their wages and conditions. In the light of this, we condemn the current sectoral determination of a minimum wage of R69 as an insult and little better than a slave wage.

Call for solidarity

To ensure the success of the current action and bring the confrontation to an early end, we call upon all unions organising workers involved in agricultural products not handle products from farms where workers are taking action. Effective solidarity will ensure an early victory. Should the strike drag on and the employers remain intransigent, we would like to warn employers on the farms that we will consider a broader boycott of their products.

We also call on other farm workers in other provinces to embark on similar strike actions to help broaden resistance to slave wages and bring a victorious end to the strike at the earliest point.

Communities in fruit-growing areas are directly affected by wage levels and conditions in the area and they already support local workers on strike. COSATU calls on communities more broadly to show their solidarity by supporting the strike through donations to strike funds and by boycotting products produce from the affected farms. Community members can also show solidarity by not crossing picket lines and by producing leaflets and organising meetings in support of the strikers.

Call for government intervention

COSATU also demands the urgent intervention of the Department of Labour to help bring this strike to an early end. The Department should establish a commission on the conditions of farm workers and ensure that the relevant labour laws are adhered to by all employers and that all transgressions are severely punished.

Implement Summit resolutions

In 2010 the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) working together with the Provincial Departments of Agriculture and other stakeholders, held farm workers' summits across the country. The summits aimed to provide a platform for engagement and dialogue among the stakeholders on issues pertaining mainly to farm workers, farm owners and farm dwellers; to develop a common programme with clear goals; give voice to farm workers; and address the challenges they are faced with on daily basis. A national summit followed. Summit resolutions laid the basis for government policy and laws in addressing the plight of farm dwellers and farm workers.

COSATU calls on Government to ensure the rapid implementation of all summit resolutions. These included the need for new legislation to ensure a developmental vision; a moratorium on privatisation of state assets; charters to address transformation and skills development; and establishment at a national and provincial level of a Vulnerable Workers unit in DAFF.

Violence and intimidation

COSATU is concerned at the levels of violence and intimidation by security guards employed by farmers. We are informed that this is a major cause of current high levels of violence experienced during the strike. We must however also condemn intimidation of fellow workers by strikers and call for peaceful and militant action. It is always more effective to convince others to support a strike by peaceful and rational means rather than by use of violence.

We also caution SAPS not to use excessive force in maintaining stability. Several community members have claimed to have been the victims of police brutality during the course of the strike. A number of community members in De Doorns have alleged that police shot citizens not directly involved in the strike with rubber bullets in their own dwellings.

COSATU condemns the practice of deploying police from other regions in the area. This is because police who have to sleep in the same community at night are less likely to employ force than police who have no ties to the community.

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