South African farmworkers in the Western Cape Province will suspend a strike pending a review of minimum wages, the government and a labor-union group said.
Strike-related protests that began in a grape-growing region of the province on Nov. 6 have since spread to 16 rural towns. One farmworker was killed in the southwestern town of Wolseley yesterday, while vineyards and houses have been set alight. The workers are demanding a daily wage of 150 rand ($17), more than double the current minimum of 70 rand, while farmers have offered 80 rand.
“An agreement between government and labor suspends the strike for two weeks and workers will return to work tomorrow,” the Congress of South African Trade Unions said today in an e-mailed statement. “Should the new minimum not be acceptable, then workers will continue their strike on Dec. 4.”
The farm workers, most of whom aren’t unionized, will earn a minimum 80 rand in the next two weeks while the government completes the pay review and disciplinary action won’t be taken against those who went on strike, Cosatu said. The government said it will publish a notice of its intention to review the minimum wages within a week and all interested parties will be invited to comment.
The farmworkers had asked Cosatu to assist them in resolving the pay dispute, and the government was confident of the labor grouping’s ability to persuade them to return to work, Angie Motshekga, the acting labor minister, said.
“As government we are very relieved by the calling off of the strike,” she told reporters in Cape Town today. This should “lead to a lasting solution to stabilize the farm labor environment. We want to appeal to all farmworkers and all protesters to stop the vandalism and violence. We call for an end to the victimization and discrimination of all farmworkers.”
Labor unrest started in the platinum mining industry in August, spreading to other mines and transportation and manufacturing companies in South Africa, where a quarter of workers are unemployed and almost a third of the 51.8 million population depends on welfare.