Bloomberg News

Most South African Farmworkers Suspend Strike for Week to Talk

January 16, 2013

Most striking farmworkers in South Africa’s Western Cape province agreed to suspend their labor action for a week to allow further wage negotiations to take place, the country’s largest labor group said.

Thousands of workers have embarked on intermittent strikes since November, demanding that the minimum daily wage be increased to 150 rand ($17) from 70 rand. Three workers have died, and vineyards and packing sheds were torched. The suspension of the strike, which last resumed on Jan. 9, will allow harvesting to go ahead in South Africa’s biggest fruit- producing region.

“The strike is suspended to give all towns the opportunity to pursue agreements that could bring an end to the strikes and protests,” Tony Ehrenreich, secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions in the Western Cape told reporters in Cape Town today. “The strike may resume on Jan. 23 in those towns” where wage deals are not concluded.

Yesterday, the union known as Cosatu said farmers in the Clanwilliam area, 230 kilometers (145 miles) north of Cape Town, agreed to pay workers 105 rand a day and not fire those who participated in the strike, a deal that should serve as model for other farmers.

The pay deal was signed by one farmer, and the industry hadn’t agreed to any collective wage agreement, Agri SA, the main farmers’ organization, said in an e-mail today.

Farmworkers in De Doorns are holding out for a 150-rand minimum daily wage and will continue to strike, while workers in two other towns are deciding whether to return to work, Ehrenreich said.

Stun Grenades

De Doorns, about 150 kilometers northeast of Cape Town, has been the center of the protests, with police firing rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse stone-throwing crowds.

Agriculture makes up about 2.1 percent of South Africa’s gross domestic product, government data show. Farms produce close to 6.5 percent of the country’s exports, including wine, citrus fruit, corn, grapes, apples and pears. Farming in the Western Cape employs about 200,000 workers, according to the provincial agriculture department.

The government has agreed to implement new mimimum wages for the agriculture industry, effective March 1, a month earlier than planned, and there was “general agreement” they should earn a minimum of 100 rand a day, Ehrenreich said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mike Cohen in Cape Town at mcohen21@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nasreen Seria at nseria@bloomberg.net


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