Farm workers plan mass protests

Following a strike by farmworkers on a farm in the Western Cape’s Boland region, workers on surrounding farms are threatening mass action against low wages and lack of job security. Last month anger over wages and job security in the sector boiled over when about 300 contract workers at Keurboschkloof fruit farm outside De Doorns downed tools, forcing SA Fruit Exporters, who had recently taken over management of the farm, to agree to a wage increase. The workers received support from Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson who called for an end to exploitation of farm workers.

The workers also received support from ANC provincial chairperson and International Relations deputy minister Marius Fransman. Now 57 farmworkers on the Royal Mushrooms farm outside De Doorns are believed to have been fired last week before receiving their fortnightly wages due to their demands for better pay. This is said to have prompted about 40 more workers from the same farm in De Doorns to join in the protest today. Activist and organiser for lobby group People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (Passop) Owen Maromo said last week 57 workers from the farm approached the organisation for help. Maromo said the workers had been fired without pay because they requested to be paid at least R120 per day instead of a weekly wage ranging between R150 and R200.

He said on Friday the employer, who he alleges has already hired 60 new workers supplied by labour brokers, told the aggrieved workers that in order to receive the fortnightly wages owed to them they should surrender their overalls, but the workers refused. Maromo said about 100 workers from the farm, included the 57 who had been fired, today protested outside the farm gate. He said those who continued to work were being forced to sign contracts to stay on the job, despite many of them saying they wanted time to peruse the contracts. Maromo condemned the role of labour brokers, saying they supported the suffering of farm workers by supplying farmers with cheap labour to replace vocal workers who demanded a minimum wage and better working conditions.

He said that some farmworkers in the Boland region were yearning for mass protests, adding that three worker representatives from separate farms approached them last week, hinting that they were planning to go on strike within the next two weeks to demand more wages. Maromo said their plan was to have a wide-reaching strike similar to the one plaguing the mining sector. “We want the whole valley to go on strike. We want to approach all farms so that the whole issue is sorted out for everyone,” he said. However, he said the workers were not unionized and the employers were well organised.

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