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SAfrican farm workers to strike again without ‘decent offer’

Published on 08/01/2013

South African fruit farm workers will go back on strike until they get a "decent offer" of higher wages, a regional union boss said Tuesday.

“The workers have said they are embarking on the strike again until the farmers come to the negotiating table and put (down) a decent offer,” said Tony Ehrenreich, regional secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

Seeking an increase of their daily minimum wage from 69 rand (six euros, $8) to 150 rand, they say they will launch a new strike from Wednesday, just weeks after two people died in unprecedented farm unrest in the picturesque Western Cape farmlands.

Authorities warned that the fresh stoppages threatened South Africa’s standing as a fruit exporter.

“Our reputation is at stake as a region that can deliver quality and quantity on a reliable basis,” said Western Cape Department of Agriculture spokesman Wouter Kriel.

“It could definitely be a threat (to exports) because other southern hemisphere countries that produce the same crops, at the same time as we do, could very easily see this is as an opportunity to step in and say, ‘Look, we have got a stable labour environment and can guarantee products’.”

The labour troubles on farms followed violent unrest in the mining and transport sector in mid-2012 that claimed more than 50 lives, Kriel said.

“So internationally, if you put all of those things together, it doesn’t look too promising for South Africa and I think these things all add up and that’s what needs to be managed.”

Last year’s farm strikes began in De Doorns — a top table grape-growing area outside Cape Town — before spreading to several other farming towns. The violence caused damage worth up to 150 million rand.

Two people died during the unrest, which saw police firing rubber bullets at protesters, the torching of vineyards, vehicles and liquor stores, and the closing of national routes over safety fears.

The table grape industry is especially vulnerable as it is in peak season.

Ehrenreich likened the farm strikes to last year’s mining uprising in which 34 of the dead were killed by police fire on a single day in the northern town of Marikana.

“You have a same situation here where the workers are acting outside of the leadership and the advice of unions because there’s only about six percent of workers organised in unions,” he said.

The province provides 55-60 percent of the country’s agricultural exports and employs nearly 200,000 permanent and seasonal workers.