AFRICANGLOBE – Farm workers in the grape growing region of South Africa have resumed their strike action demanding a salary increase.
The workers at De Doorns in Western Cape, whose first strike was between 27 August and 4 December last year, want their daily wages increased from R69 ($8) to R150 ($17.50) and an improvement in working and living conditions.
The strike was later suspended following an undertaking that negotiations would continue between workers’ representatives and individual farmers.
But the talks collapsed, with trade unions and non-governmental organisations, describing the negotiations as a failure, saying the predominantly white farmers refused to discuss wage increases with their workers.
Farm workers say they are determined to hold out for a pay hike.
At least two people were killed in the first wave of protests, raising concern in a country where strikes are generally violent.
The strike, which started on Wednesday, has since turned violent with several people injured.
On Thursday rubber bullets were fired during clashes between police and striking farm workers.
According to reports, thousands of protesting workers taunted the police, pelting them with rocks.
Last year, police shot and killed 34 mineworkers in Marikana after a strike turned violent.
The Black Agricultural Workers’ Union of South Africa (Bawusa) claimed that nine people had been injured by the rubber bullets since the strike resumed on Wednesday.
Farm Workers Paid Slave Wages
Bawusa general secretary, Nosey Pieterse said close to 6000 workers were on strike in De Doorns.
Roads leading into the De Doorns region have been closed due to the strike action, while protests were also taking place in other towns Grabouw and Wolseley.
According to the police, said 44 people had been arrested.
Organised agriculture, Agri Western-Cape said “farmers had been reporting cases of intimidation against their workers who were not willing to join in the strike action and wanted to continue working”.
A farm workers organisation said, “People cannot survive on R69 a day. This is what slaves get. We are not slaves we are people just like the farmers”.
The Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) called on President Jacob Zuma, “to elevate the issue of the plight of farm dwellers, in the light of the centenary of the despicable 1913 Land Act, to a presidentially-convened dialogue process”.
Fawu’s Katishi Masamole said there is an “imperative to have a national negotiations process to arrive at a resolution”.
The terrible living conditions on farms affecting an estimated 3 million farm dwellers, including children and the elderly, cannot continue to prevail, Masemole said.
According to a report by the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy released earlier this week, “the agricultural sector was dependent on cheap unskilled labour and salaries could be described as starvation wages”.
The report further stated that the wages, even if increased to R150 a day, would not be enough to keep a family properly fed.
However, the report also said most farms would not be able to afford to pay even R104 a day and that the sector needed to go through a structural change, including the increased use of mechanisation, although this would lead to job losses.
The Western Cape is a key producing area for grapes and other fruit for both export and local consumption.