Farmworker transport under scrutiny in the Western Cape

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Andricus van der Westhuizen inspects the trucks used to transport farmworkers.
Andricus van der Westhuizen inspects the trucks used to transport farmworkers.
  • The Western Cape government has said it is looking at ways to ensure that farmworkers in the province are transported in a safe and dignified manner.
  • The provincial Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning met on Tuesday to discuss concerns about farmworker transport.
  • Committee members met in light of "multiple accidents".
  • The committee said there were mounting concerns about farmworkers transported on open trucks, with no social distancing or wearing of masks.

Farmworker transport was again thrust into the spotlight during a sitting of the Western Cape Legislature's Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning.

The committee discussed various options to improve the safe and dignified transport of farmworkers in the province in light of "multiple accidents" during the previous harvesting season.

Committee chairperson Andricus van der Westhuizen said they were tasked with finding a "solution" to the ongoing problem.

Van der Westhuizen said this was the second such briefing this year after the committee previously resolved to also invite labour unions representing farmworkers, as well as the Road Traffic Management Corporation.

Concerns about farmworkers being transported on open trucks have been mounting after numerous deadly accidents in the province.

Members of the committee were reminded that not only farmworkers were transported on the back of open trucks and pick-ups. A lack of social distancing and wearing of masks also caused concern.

The committee was assured that the provincial rural safety plan also included references to road safety and that the provincial transport department was stepping up its law enforcement actions in areas where seasonal workers were transported in large numbers.

READ | How a Western Cape farmer is making the transport of farm workers safer

Both the agriculture department and labour unions were asked to pay close attention to farmworker transportation and to promote good practices, such as the temporary fitting of seats and canopies on the back of farm trucks.

The standing committee heard that affordable and safe public transport was lacking in rural areas, and that this caused employers to step in to provide free transport.

A proposal was made for national government to consider subsidising public transport in rural areas, which would allow farmworkers to be transported by bus instead of open trucks.

The standing committee supported a proposal that where it was unavoidable for people to stand on the back of trucks, these trucks should be limited to at least 50% of the normal permissible load.

READ MORE | Activists demand drastic intervention on farmworker truck transport

Another proposal was that the speed limit for open trucks transporting passengers in the province be limited to 80km/h.

It was decided that the committee will liaise with the standing committee on transport so that both committees could conduct oversight visits to roadblocks and law enforcement operations in farming communities.

The committee chair stressed that the transport regulatory framework was a national competency and that changes in road traffic regulations may be slow to implement.

He added that they were focussing on actions that could be implemented at local and provincial level.

FF Plus MPL Peter Marais raised concerns that the meeting was yet another talk shop with no action.

Cosatu's Western Cape secretary Malvern de Bruyn said in many instances female farmworkers ended up staying home when they were menstruating, as they were uncomfortable sitting on a packed open truck with co-workers.

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