Agri Wes-Cape: Farms comply with laws

Cape Town - De Doorns farmers in the Western Cape comply with sectoral agreements and minimum wages, employer body Agri Wes-Cape said on Thursday.

"We cannot have wage negotiations for the mere fact we are bound by government, and sectoral determination and minimum wages are in place," spokeswoman Portia Adams said.

"The irony of the whole situation is De Doorns farmers are all paying above minimum wage."

She said following various protests over labour conditions this week, the labour department had visited the area and did not find any farmer who paid below minimum wage, which amounted to R61.68 a day.

"They couldn't find anything else [untoward]."

Workers had been gathering on the N1 since Monday. Various protests had resulted in the setting alight of vineyards, and a number of arrests.

The N1 between Touws River and De Doorns remained closed on Thursday as a precautionary measure because of ongoing protests in the area, Western Cape police said.

Adams said the initial protest on Monday was by an unknown group who sourced farm workers.

"Some workers were beaten off farms to join them and threatened. For their own safety, they joined in the protest."

She said workers were demanding R150 a day in pay, improved living conditions, electricity, an end to illegal evictions, illegal immigrant workers and labour brokers. According to Adams, illegal evictions or immigrants were not applicable to that area.

Talks between parties were set to resume on Friday in the Worcester civic centre.

"Farmers are prepared to listen. We will discuss these things so we can come to some conclusion," Adams said.

Western Cape premier Helen Zille left De Doorns on Thursday after a small crowd of people became rowdy during her walkabout in the protest-hit area. Zille and provincial agriculture MEC Gerrit van Rensburg had been walking door-to-door in Stofland, an informal settlement in the town where most of the disgruntled workers lived. While there, Zille was asked to address a group at a nearby soccer stadium.

The small crowd she was speaking to was initially friendly, but then some of them started chanting the name of expelled African National Congress Youth League president Julius Malema.

This growing group then started intimidating the others by dragging them away.

"It was terrifying intimidation for the people who were trying to speak to me," Zille said.

She decided it was best to leave and would return when the situation was not as tense.

The Congress of SA Trade Unions accused the Democratic Alliance and provincial officials of "politicising" the strike.

"The cat is out of the bag in the Western Cape, where workers now know that the DA supports the farmers' oppression of them and they are rejecting the DA.

"The MEC of agriculture who went there, went to defend the farmers' interest and that is why workers asked them to leave and not come back," provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich said.

He said Zille insisted on visiting despite being warned, which caused her to be "chased away".

Ehrenreich said Agri SA had taken a stand against the need for collective bargaining and this had incensed workers.

"Cosatu continues to support the workers' demand of R150 per day and rejects the R80 offered by the farmers as an insult and return to slave wages."

The federation called for peaceful protesting and for national Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson to intervene.

According to the agriculture department, De Doorns produces table grapes, predominantly for the export market. This industry supports 8000 full time workers and 8000 seasonal jobs in the Hex River Valley.
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