Farm labour talks continue

Cape Town - Talks to resolve a farm labour dispute continued on Wednesday afternoon, with the Western Cape agriculture department calling for calm and order.

"The current protest action in De Doorns is harming our economy and preventing job creation in the Western Cape agricultural sector," provincial agriculture MEC Gerrit van Rensburg said.

"The unrest can only be solved through negotiations, and therefore the current talks between labour and employers, chaired by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, is of great importance."

Workers had been gathering on the N1 highway since Monday, and 30 hectares of vineyards were burned, resulting in several arrests.

On Tuesday, around 8 000 workers gathered in the small town before protesting, forcing the temporary closure of the N1 between De Doorns and Touws River.

A farmer was arrested during the day for attempted murder after he allegedly shot at protesting workers.

Police spokesman Lt-Col André Traut said two people were arrested on Tuesday after looting a bottle store.

When the initial protest started, police said it was linked to a wage dispute. The agriculture department and Democratic Alliance in the province denied this, suggesting it was politically motivated.

The department on Wednesday confirmed the protest was a "labour issue".

Van Rensburg, community safety MEC Dan Plato and sport and culture MEC Ivan Meyer were sent to the town to quell the unrest.

"As a team, we were able to create an environment conducive for dialogue," Van Rensburg said.

"I was able to get the employer and worker representatives to sit around a table and engage one another in a calm manner, even though the African National Congress councillors did not approve of my presence."

Talks continued until 9pm on Tuesday and resumed at the Worcester civic centre around 11am on Wednesday.

The Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) in the province said it was helping with the talks.

"These negotiations must find a way in which workers can get decent wages, and end the atrocious living conditions of workers on farms and in the informal areas," provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich said.

"The ill treatment and under-payment of workers by some farmers must stop, otherwise we will see a Marikana in De Doorns."

Van Rensburg said that if the protests were due to a wage dispute, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant should be approached to take part in discussions.

He warned farm workers that illegal protests would have legal consequences.

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.

The agriculture department estimated that if it could increase exports by five percent, an additional R432 million would be added to the provincial economy, creating around 9500 new jobs on farms and almost 13,500 jobs in "value-adding activities".
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