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Friday 29 August  

Uneasy calm as S. Africa farm strike resumes

Published on 4 December 2012 - 10:32pm
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Farm workers in South Africa's picturesque winelands resumed strike action on Tuesday, with tension enveloping the Western Cape region but few signs of a repeat of deadly violence.

"We have had reports or workers throwing stones at trucks in the Franschhoek area," said Porschia Adams, a spokeswoman for the AgriWes-Cape, a group that represents farmers in the Western Cape province.

"But otherwise it has been peaceful so far."

The strike, which comes at the start of South Africa's grape harvest season, turned violent in November when workers burned vineyards, looted shops and blockaded streets with burning tyres in towns close to Cape Town.

Many of the farmers have since hired private security firms to protect their property while the police have sent hundreds of additional officers to monitor the area.

"We are operationally ready if any problems arise," Lieutenant-Colonel Andre Traut said.

Workers are demanding that their 70 rand ($8) wages be increased to 150 rand ($17).

Adams said a strike was unusual for the farming industry, where wage disputes were normally resolved "on the ground".

"Farm workers do not normally strike. They are partners in business and they realise what their role is. They sort their issues out on the farm with the farmers."

Adams said farmers were "reassessing their risks and thinking about alternatives" to using labour.

The fruit industry in the Western Cape employs around 200,000 permanent workers and 200,000 casual labourers.

Michael Loubser, a spokesman for Hex Valley Table Grape Farmers Association, said no violence had been reported early on Tuesday.

"About 95 percent of the permanent staff are at work today," he said.

The only people who were not able to work were those from the nearby Stofland informal settlement, he said.

"The workers there have been told that if they go to work there will be consequences," Loubser said.

So far talks to end the dispute have remained deadlocked.

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant has said that the basic wage may only be reviewed one year after it was put in place, according to legislation, with the current level dating to March this year.

Tony Ehrenreich, the general secretary of Western Cape branch of union federation Cosatu, said discussions with farmers had been fruitless.

"There will be a meeting with farmers this afternoon," he said. "But so far our discussions have yielded no results."

© ANP/AFP
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