Farm worker strike suspended for 2 weeks - COSATU WCape

Tony Ehrenreich rejects DA allegations of intimidation by white woman MP

COSATU press conference to be held at COSATU offices today, 14 November 2012, at 16h00 @ 41 Salt River Road, Salt River, Cape Town.

Present will be farm-workers organisations and the Minister of Agriculture


The agreement between government and Labour suspends strike for 2 weeks, and workers will return to work tomorrow, Thursday 15 November 2012.

This agreement is an intervention in the strike started by workers in the Agricultural sector, without any union leadership, as the majority of workers are not members of unions. Cosatu and the other unions have become involved in the strike, at the invitation of the strikers, to assist a resolution. The unions are trying to avoid a Marikana situation where workers act without guidance from unions, and resolutions are not found in negotiations.

The agreement negotiated between Labour and Government has been accepted by the workers and the strike will be suspended for 2 weeks. The terms of the agreement are as follows:

1. The Government agrees to initiate an urgent process to review the national minimum wage. This review will be done over the next 2 weeks   with the parties involved in this agreement. Should the new minimum be acceptable to workers, then this part of the dispute will be settled. Should the new minimum not be acceptable, and then workers will continue their strike on the 4th December 2012.

2. The other aspects of the agreement are that no disciplinary action or victimization will be taken against workers who participated in the strike. Any action that had been taken against workers for participating in the strike must be reversed immediately, e.g. evictions etc. The new minimum wage that will be applied in the interim is the R80 agreed to by Agri- SA in the meeting between Labour, government and Agri SA.  The additional areas related to evictions will be addressed in the discussions. The Provision of Housing and basic services will be addressed by the Provincial Government and details will be finalised in the discussions.

3. One of the mechanisms is to address the increase in minimum is the Employment Conditions Commission, which may be of assistance to arrive at a new minimum. Whatever technical impediments may exist here should not detract from the need to find an agreement within the 2 weeks allotted by the striking workers.  This agreement should pursue a variety of options that bring the desired results in the time frames set down by workers.

There have been many attempts to politicise the strike, by the political parties, claiming intimidation, and the fact that this is a political party campaign. There were stories of the DA MP who went to a farm where the workers told her they were intimidated.  This MP was a white woman brought to the workers by the farmer who intimidates and assaults them at will, and she expects them to tell her, that they want to strike against the unfair employer.

This is astounding logic from the DA who has consistently put the farmer's interest before that of the farm workers. The DA is trying to become relevant in this crisis, following the unceremonious chasing of Premier Zille from the area by the workers.  They are finally agreeing that minimum wage is to low and even now endorsing a Cosatu position after the fact that the President must intervene in this matter, by getting the minimums raised as part of the resolution.

The reality is that it is not possible for any organisation to intimidate 16 towns to go out on strike simultaneously. The cause of the strike is the systemic difficulties on farms arising from, low wages, unfair evictions and general bad treatment by most farmers on farms. The good farmers had offered higher wages, and they must encourage their counterparts in the sector to agree to the decent wages, needed to bring stability to the sector.  

This sector is still plagued by apartheid style industrial relations, where farmers try all manner of tricks to stop unions organising and representing the legitimate aspirations of workers. The workers who went on strike on their own, given that only 6% of them belong to unions have called on Cosatu to assist them, which means they want to be associated with COSATU, but Agri SA has a low level war against farm workers, and refuse to have them engage in constructive negotiations through their unions.

The issues leading to the crisis in this sector and the strikes is the low wages of around R69, 00 a day, as well as the ill treatment and evictions that are common place on many farms. These are the issues that need to be addressed collectively, and the R150 is the rallying cry.

Cosatu condemns the police brutality against the protesters and calls for calm on all sides. Cosatu extends its condolences to the family of the protester who was killed by police gun fire and calls for a full investigation into the shootings. We further call on the state to assist the families with the tragic loss of their breadwinner and cover the cost of the family.

Statement issued by COSATU Western Cape Provincial Secretary, Tony Ehrenreich, November 14 2012

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