15 May 2019

South Africa: Grabouw Farm Workers Suspend Protest

Union calls for release of arrested protesters

Children returned to school on Wednesday morning and the N2 highway near Sir Lowry's Pass was open as Grabouw farm workers suspended their protest action during negotiations with their employer.

"We have suspended the action" said Karel Swart of the Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU). Since 6 May, more than 60 farm workers from Oak Valley Estate in Grabouw have been protesting for a wage increase to R250 per day, an end to labour brokering, and the removal of single sex hostels. The farm workers are being supported by CSAAWU and some community members.

Swart said the protest action had been suspended because Oak Valley Estate had agreed "to come to the table". Those involved in the meeting include union representatives, leaders of the protesting farm workers, Oak Valley Estate management and the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) commissioner.

Christopher Rawbone-Viljoen, managing director of Oak Valley Estate, said in previous meetings the farm had suggested reviewing seasonal contracts and investigating whether workers were "eligible for permanency on the basis of rolling contracts". He said they were waiting for more information from the labour brokers.

Rawbone-Viljoen said that CSAAWU had not presented any proposals, only demands, and that the farm had tried on several occasions to reach a mediated settlement. "In our view, given their demands, they are not interested in a mediated settlement." he said.

On Tuesday, protests caused a divide in the community as roads were closed and schools were disrupted. Some community members felt that they were being "held hostage".

Nine people were arrested on Monday, said Lieutenant Colonel Andre Traut of the SAPS. "One for incitement to commit violence and eight for public violence" he said. Traut said that police would continue to monitor the situation.

Swart was one of those arrested but was later released. He said if those arrested remained locked up, the protest might resume. He said he had told the station commander, "If you don't drop the charges there will be no peace".

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