Labour Dept must help resolve strike - Agri Minister
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson has called on the Labour Department to intervene in the Western Cape farm workers’ strike.
“I have no capacity to advise or influence the employment conditions commission,” she told SAfm on Wednesday morning.
“That is a matter for the department of labour or the minister of labour. We have done what we could as the department of agriculture and we will continue supporting workers.”
She said she had helped “restore relationships” between striking farm workers and farmers.
“I think we’ve [the department] acted as a facilitator to allow that these negotiations and talks stay on track... We cannot afford this sector to lose jobs... that is why we decided to participate in normalising the situation.”
Business Day reported on Wednesday that Joemat-Pettersson told workers on Tuesday afternoon she would speak to President Jacob Zuma on their behalf.
“I will tell the president that we cannot ignore the call of the farm workers. From there we will go to the labour minister to discuss sectoral determinations,” she was quoted as saying.
Grape harvesters in the Hex River Valley, in the Western Cape, had been protesting for a week over their wages, demanding R150 a day. Most earned between R69 and R75 a day, with R80 being the highest and only offer from farmers.
Several protesters have been arrested for public violence.
“We call on all workers to stop the violence, to stop the vandalism,” the minister said on SAfm.
On Tuesday, Joemat-Pettersson called for an end to the violence in the De Doorns area.
She was commenting after being asked by their representatives and unions to escalate their demands to an inter-ministerial meeting to review the minimum wage for the entire agriculture sector.
“The farmworkers’ unions said they were willing to abandon the strikes for two weeks until a solution to the wage issue was found,” Joemat-Pettersson said in a statement on Tuesday night.
Farmworkers in the area went on strike last week. They are asking for R150 per day in wages.
“The farmworker unions demanded that workers should be paid a minimum of R80 per day in wages with immediate effect. The workers were also urged to go to work tomorrow,” she said.
Joemat-Pettersson said rising food prices and food insecurity made it impossible for people to live on R70 a day and that intervention was needed to improve the situation.
She said inequality, unemployment and poverty would never be eliminated if vulnerable workers were not paid decent wages and their living conditions were not improved.
“The challenge is on us as government to ensure that when we speak of a developmental country we address the triple challenges and how we can eradicate them.”