S.Africa farmworker wage deadline ‘impossible’: minister
South Africa's government said on Tuesday that next week's deadline by farmworkers for a wage increase will not be met, leading unions to warn of more "violence and death" in restive farming areas.
Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant said that any increase to farmworkers’ minimum wage could not take place until April. “The deadline of the fourth of December, 2012 is practically impossible to achieve,” she said.
Workers near Cape Town have vowed to resume protests if their daily minimum pay is not hiked to 150 rand ($17, 13 euros) by Tuesday.
Labour giant the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) quickly warned that the delay could fuel possible protests that carried “real dangers of violence and death” and undermined ongoing talks to find a solution.
Cosatu, the country’s biggest labour grouping, said the minister’s words had hurt the negotiations between formal agriculture and unions and accused her of acting without the leadership and urgency that was needed.
“This strike, called by the workers and set for (Tuesday), can set back labour relations on farms by decades and could see a reversal to the low-level civil war we all witnessed on farms a few weeks ago,” said Cosatu.
“The entire country saw the desperation and anger of the workers against these low wages.”
Two people died during the recent unrest, which saw police firing rubber bullets at protesters, the torching of vineyards, vehicles and packing stores, and the closing of roads over safety fears.
Oliphant said legislation dictates that she may only review the basic wage — currently $8 per day — one year after it was put in place, with the current level dating to March this year.
The minister added that workers had the right to strike, but she slammed the “unacceptable and unjustifiable” violence that she said characterised the recent strikes, which rippled across key farming areas in the Western Cape.
“Whenever the violence is there, the police must come in and do its work,” said Oliphant.
The protests were recently suspended as a review process of the minimum wage got under way and mediated talks started.
Last week, the Coalition of Farm Worker Representatives had threatened an “intensification of protest actions, both in scope and in militancy” if the pay hike was not introduced by Tuesday.
Public hearings on the wage review are taking place until mid-December. An advisory commission will then make recommendations to the minister.