S.African unions vow to intensify farm strikes
South African unions on Sunday said they would intensify violent stoppages in the picturesque Western Cape wine lands, as authorities offered to mediate a deadlock over pay hikes.
“The farmworkers have taken a decision to intensify the strike, because the farmers are not serious about the negotiations to find a solution,” Sapa news agency quoted Congress of SA Trade Unions Western Cape secretary Tony Ehrenreich as saying.
The Bawsi Agricultural Workers’ Union of South Africa (Bawusa) general secretary Nosey Pieter told AFP that “of course” strikes would continue.
The labour ministry said it was “ready to mediate as soon as the parties show the resolve to negotiate.”
Police unloaded a barrage of rubber bullets, water cannon and tear gas at hundreds of stone-throwing protesters this week as farm strikes turned violent.
Workers, many of whom are seasonal, are demanding a wage hike from 69 rand ($8, six euros) to 150 rand a day.
Unrest simmered over the weekend, with riot police patrolling streets. Three masked men hijacked and set fire to a truck early Saturday.
No incidents were reported Sunday and arrests stayed at 125, police spokesman November Filander said.
The main N1 highway connecting Cape Town to Johannesburg was still closed in major fruit-producing town De Doorns to keep out protesters, provincial traffic chief Kenny Africa said.
Chaos has plagued talks to end the violent dispute amid the constraints of existing wage agreements, power struggles between the unions and differing stances taken by individual farmers.
“The unions don’t really represent the people,” said Hex River Valley Table Grape Growers’ Association chairman Michael Laubscher.
“Less than six percent (of) workers are members but they’re trying to force us into negotiating with them,” Laubscher told AFP.
A wage hike was impossible, he added.
“The farmers in the Hex River valley (De Doorns) lost five rand a carton last season. In the Paarl they lost 17 rand.”