COSATU Gauteng chairperson Phutas Tseki has made an impassioned plea to employers, especially farmers, to give their employees time off to celebrate the country's important historical days.

COSATU Gauteng chairperson Phutas Tseki has made an impassioned plea to employers, especially farmers, to give their employees time off to celebrate the country's important historical days.

Tseki told a farm workers' summit in Johannesburg last weekend that some employers, especially white farmers, had no regard for the country's important historical days. He raised the issue on the eve of International Workers' Day tomorrow.

"We call on farmers to release workers on May Day. I was at a farm during the Easter weekend. It was very quiet. Everybody had gone home. On December 25, retail shops are closed and no one works on the farms.

"Those are not our days, but come other holidays with a historical significance, be it Human Rights Day, International Workers' Day, Freedom Day, Youth Day or Reconciliation Day and you will find people working on the farms," he said.

May 1 is the day on which workers of the world celebrate their victories and commit themselves to further their struggles.

Horrifying stories that painted a grim picture of life in the country's farms were related by speaker after speaker. The stories were about gross human rights violations in which the perpetrators showed complete disregard for labour laws and human rights. In some cases, the violations had allegedly led to death.

Premier Nomvula Mokonyane told the summit how her seven-month pregnant and sickly relative had died on a bean field after she was given a choice to either leave the farm or help with the harvest.

Research done by Nkunzi Development, a nongovernmental organisation advocating farm workers rights in Limpopo, showed that more than 4,18million farm dwellers were displaced and 1,7million were evicted between 1984 and 2004.

The Transvaal Agricultural Union said in its report that more than 285 people were murdered on Gauteng farms between 1991 and 2009. Agri SA said more than 1541 murders were committed on the country's farms between 1994 and 2008.

Nkunzi further stated in a report submitted to the selected committee on Land and Environmental Affairs in 2005 that 77percent of vulnerable farm dwellers were evicted - 28percent of them were women while 49percent were children.

Testimony delivered by Food and Allied Workers Union's Moloko Phakedi showed that farmers, especially white farmers, had no respect for the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, the guiding legislation to good labour practice.

"Workers are made to wake up early in the morning to work until it is so dark that they cannot see the boss," Phakedi said. "There are no regulated working hours. People on the farms are victims of eviction, which occurs almost everyday.

"When workers are attacked by farmers and report the matter to police, they are told to go and reconcile with the perpetrator. But when a farmer has been attacked, police act quickly.

"The lives of farm workers and dwellers are of a lesser value than those of farmers."

Tseki had earlier reminded delegates how police and government officials had been eager to meet the leadership of the AWB following the death of their leader Eugene Terre'Blanche.

A government delegation, led by Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, has met the AWB leadership at least twice. This after the AWB publicly called for revenge after the murder of Terre'Blanche last month.

Agri SA's Gauteng general manager Freek Tomlinson defended farmers. He said they were competing with other sectors such as mining.

He had earlier told Sowetan that farmers paid workers on average about R300 a month. The sectoral determination for the agricultural sector is at least R1362 a month.

Phakedi said yesterday they would celebrate May Day by mobilising on the farms. KwaZulu-Natal held their summit yesterday. North West, Western Cape and Eastern Cape have already held theirs.