SA farmworkers force govt's hand on wages
15 November 2012, 12:04
Cape Town - South African farmworkers have forced the government's hand by agreeing to suspend their protests on the condition that their minimum wage be renegotiated.
Acting Labour Minister Angie Motshekga said the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) had consulted workers and it was agreed they would return to work on Thursday and desist from violence and vandalism.
The suspension was on condition that the sectoral determination for agriculture be looked at by the Employment Condition Commission next Wednesday.
This meant the R70 a day minimum wage for farmworkers would be cancelled and renegotiated.
Motshekga was addressing reporters in Cape Town, on behalf of Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant, who was out of the country.
Grape harvesters in the Hex River Valley have been protesting for more than a week about their wages, demanding R150 a day.
Most earn between R69 and R75 a day, with R80 being the highest and only offer from farmers so far.
Sixteen towns in the province have been affected by the protest action, including blocked roads and burning tyres.
Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson described the labour action as a service delivery strike, and said workers in De Doorns, for instance, wanted housing and basic services.
She condemned those who said the matter was purely political.
"This is not a political matter. This an initiative of workers themselves. This is indeed a service delivery strike."
Agri SA said on Wednesday said it was definitely a political matter.
"This is the worst violence that we have ever experienced... For sure it is forces from the outside. It is political," Agri SA Western Cape president Cornie Swart said.
"People are being driven in by buses and taxis. It's not a strike. It's a total, political, blown-up thing."
The labour department expressed condolences to the family of a farmworker killed in Wolseley on Wednesday morning and called for an end to violence by workers and victimisation by farmers.
Western Cape police confirmed that a man had been killed as a result of police action and five other people injured during protests in Wolseley.
Lieutenant Colonel André Traut said the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) would investigate.
IPID spokesperson Moses Dlamini said an investigator was on his way to the scene where the protester was shot to get more details.
"I can confirm that one person was killed. However, we only have a report that three were injured. An investigator is on his way to gather more details."
Joemat-Pettersson said her state security and police counterparts, Siyabonga Cwele and Nathi Mthethwa, would "engage further in the matter".
"To give information now [on the death] would be very clumsy and irresponsible," she said.
The SA National Editors' Forum (Sanef) said two photographers were injured while covering protests during the day.
"This morning [Wednesday] Mandla Mnyakama, a photographer from the Daily Sun, was allegedly shot in the back with a rubber bullet by police whilst covering unrest near Robertson in the Western Cape," Sanef chairperson Mondli Makhanya said.
He said Mnyakama was hurt, but that his primary concern was the "treatment" he received from the police.
Die Burger photographer Lulama Zenzile was hurt in the same protest, while standing about 18m from the police.
"He was taken to a clinic, and after X-rays confirmed his nose was not broken, he was discharged," Makhanya said.
Sanef was still waiting for a response from the police.
A notice indicating the intent to call all interested parties to comment on the sectoral determination will be published by next Friday.
Joemat-Pettersson said the sectoral determination could only be revised once a year.
A revision would affect all farmworkers across the country, regardless of produce.
Trade and industry minister Rob Davies, fresh from a visit to Brazil on wine-related matters, said the government needed to look into the ethical trading of wine.
"I'm not surprised there's been an explosion of this sort," he said.
"I think there's a link between the conditions of farmworkers, the degree to which they are seen to benefit from the fruits of the industry and the ability to market this product internationally."
He would re-visit proposals to carry "ethical trading" stickers on wine bottles from farms with fair labour practices.