Cosatu warns KZN farmers

2013-01-17 00:00

FARMERS in other parts of the country, including KwaZulu-Natal, should put pressure on their counterparts in the Western Cape to find a solution to the strike there, Cosatu warned yesterday.

The labour federation’s provincial leader, Zet Luzipo, said in an interview yesterday: “We must … warn those farm owners in other parts of the country, including KwaZulu-Natal, not to see this as being far from their own provinces because the future cannot be predicted.”

Some farmers were happy that the strike was not happening in their provinces.

“They should push for a solution to be found because once a strike starts in one place there is a risk that it could spread to other areas,” Luzipo said.

The Western Cape strike resumed last Wednesday with the workers demanding an increase in wages from R69 to R150 a day and that a coherent land reform programme be implemented.

The strike resumed as the Labour Department was holding public hearings to review farm workers’ minimum wages.

While insisting that there was no strike being organised in KZN, Luzipo said: “Cosatu KZN’s statement is not a threat, but our assessment of the situation.

If strikes broke out in other provinces, he added, “it may not concern just labour issues, but human rights violations on the farms”.

Just as service delivery protests had erupted in small towns and then engulfed the country a few years ago, Luzipo said, “we run the risk of workers in other provinces becoming militant and starting to do things”.

He said KwaZulu-Natal would not escape labour unrest because of the harsh working conditions and human rights abuses that farmworkers were experiencing.

He alleged that some farmworkers did not have access to electricity and clean water on farms in the province.

They were also physically abused by their employers, could not bury their loved ones on the farm they lived on, had to keep only a certain number of livestock and were even exposed to fires, sustaining serious injuries.

Cosatu KZN had raised its concerns with organised agriculture and its members’ response was “we can’t generalise” and “it is exceptional cases”, said Luzipo.

Cosatu in KZN wanted a provincial farmworkers’ summit to be held to tackle their grievances before they spiralled out of control.

Asked for comment, Koos Marais, of the KZN Agricultural Union, referred questions to CEO Sandy La Marque, who was reportedly in a meeting.

Ndabezitha Sibiya, Premier Zweli Mkhize’s spokesperson, said the provincial government was open to any suggestions from organised labour to ensure that KZN did not experience labour unrest.

“If there is a formal proposal from Cosatu, the cabinet will look into it and engage labour to ensure such a summit takes place.”

Sibiya said human rights abuses of farm workers should be reported to the human rights directorate in the Office of the Premier for investigation.

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