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  |  COSATU Press Statements

Conclusion of the Western Cape farmworkers strike

22 January 2013

Strike is over in the W Cape - for now. Cosatu W Cape will be calling for the Cosatu Head Office to drive and coordinate a National Strike against Agri-SA and their bad members.

The disputes, strikes and protests in the W Cape farming communities have changed the face of agriculture forever. It has set the scene for workers and communities to fight the apartheid slave conditions on the farms and in communities across the country. The workers have shown incredible bravery in their struggles and good faith in suspending the strike on 3 occasions to give negotiations a chance, but Agri SA has refused to accept the hand the workers have extended to them, essentially rejecting peace, friendship and a new Industry Plan.

The strike was suspended last week to give Agri-SA a chance to get a mandate to CCMA, to consider the terms for ending exploitation on farms, as put forward by striking workers. Agri-SA responded to say that they were not interested in talking to the workers` demands. This is war talk as far as Cosatu is concerned and is responsible for the deepening tensions in Agriculture. It is this short-sightedness from Agri-SA that has seen a motion of no confidence in the President of Agri-SA being considered. Agri-SA does not want to engage on the bigger issues that undoes the apartheid legacy of the 1913 Land Act. They must, however, realise that they will not be able to cling to the apartheid theft of the land - they have to bring workers into ownership as meaningful partners, on the farms,

We know that the poverty wages paid to workers means that they live from hand to mouth and there is no money to feed the children during the strike. It is these hardships that farmers are acutely aware of and complicit in creating, that they hope will force workers back to work. It is also these incredible difficulties that inform the Cosatu view on the strike. We understand that even though the anger of workers makes them want to continue the strike, we have to consider the impact on children when there is no food in the house. We are also mindful of the fact that these industries belong to the people of South Africa, and while we want to ruin bad farmers, we don`t want to ruin our Industries.

We may be encouraging workers to go back to work now, but the struggle in Agriculture will intensify for decent wages, good conditions on farms and land reform. It will be done with the guidance and leadership of Cosatu at a National level, following the appropriate legal procedures. It will be a peaceful protest that will see all sectors of Cosatu supporting agricultural workers.

We are cautioning farmers not to take any disciplinary action against workers for participating in the strike and will take action against farmers guilty of intimidation and victimisation. We are also cautioning farmers who have discriminated against workers participating in the protest. We are calling on the courts to release workers whose only crime was saying their children and families are starving.

The unions must now continue to go and negotiate farm by farm, to ensure that the workers get a fair slice of what they produce through their hard work. The Unions are a lot more active and well organised in the areas now, with thousands of workers having joined the unions during the protest.

We will as Cosatu continue to work with good farmers and expose the bad farmers. We will ensure that good farmers get support/subsidies from the Government and greater market access. We will promote their products abroad and ensure that the retailers buy only products from good farmers, not from bad farmers.

We will change this sector forever and will see that decent conditions and partnerships are established, just like in any other sector of the economy - through negotiations. We are saddened by the attitude of some in National Government who could have done more to assist in resolving this matter. We are especially saddened by the Provincial Minister of Agriculture - DA, who himself is a farmer and benefitting from slave wages, hence he only stood by the farmers. We are concerned that Premier Zille`s inability to provide leadership for a more just outcome reflects her support for status quo and farmers slave wages.

ON THE ADVICE OF WORKERS - We are calling off the strike actions in all areas, so that workers can evaluate the victories that they have gained, and plan more carefully for the way forward. We welcome the announcement by National Government to increase the minimum wages by 1 March 2013 by more than R100, and we hope that this increase is decent and ensures that workers can sustain their families. Cosatu will continue to be available to assist all workers and all organisations, and will be coordinating the mother of all strikes against bad farmers, for later this year - should an agreement not be reached in Agriculture, with farmers, around living wages, decent conditions on farms, and comprehensive land reform.

We salute the workers for their incredible sacrifices and selfless struggles to bring greater social justice and fairness on farms for them and their children. We salute those who lost their lives in this struggle, and condemn the Private securities of farmers, responsible for the death. Ons wil n nasie bou van werkers en boere, wit en swart, wat saam staan en saam werk vir n goeie toekoms vir almal.

With questions please call Tony - 082 7733194