Farm workers find their voice

Nearly two months after the labour unrest in the Western Cape first erupted farm workers have finally started speaking up for themselves.

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A group opposed to the violence that has characterised the strike action by certain farm workers demanding that the minimum wage be increased from R69/day to R150 has come together to form the Farm Worker Forum.

One of the conveners, farm worker Rita Andreas from Bosman Family Vineyards in Wellington, said the forum already enjoys the support of most farms in the Berg River municipal area, which includes towns like Wellington and Paarl, while support from other regions is growing fast.

“In future this forum is going to be a mouthpiece for the farm workers,” said Andreas. “It will give them the opportunity to represent themselves. Our next task will be to meet with the producers to discuss the possibility of an increased minimum wage, but we don’t support the on-going strikes and especially the violence…

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“We as workers do believe that the R69/day minimum wage is too low, but at the same time we want to make it quite clear that many farm workers in the Western Cape earn more than that and they also enjoy many other benefits provided by farmers, including housing, schools for their children and training.”

From left: “Our people need to stand up and speak for ourselves otherwise we will go hungry and be left without work”; “A fool builds nothing, he only breaks down”.

Ockert Diedericks, a farm worker from Welgemoed Farm in Wellington, who’s also one of the driving forces behind the establishment of the forum, told Farmer’s Weekly it’s mainly seasonal workers and unemployed people who are taking part in the strikes.

He said some of the violent acts that have been committed during the course of the labour unrest, such as the burning and destruction of farms and farm infrastructure, should be condemned in the strongest possible terms. He also said the strikes are jeopardising the good relationships that exist between most permanent farm workers, many of whom live on farms, and their employers.

At the forum’s first mass public meeting on Tuesday, 22 January, in Wellington, more than 1000 farm workers showed up brandishing posters clearly conveying the message of the forum – namely that farm workers will no longer tolerate being represented by unions that enjoy little support in the farm worker community and condemning the acts of violence that have been committed by those taking part in the strikes.

View the farm workers’ strike gallery for pics.