South African Farmworkers May Resume Strikes, Labor Group WarnsMike Cohen
South Africa’s largest labor group warned that farmworkers in Western Cape province may resume violent strike action after the government said it couldn’t meet a Dec. 4 deadline to review minimum wages.
Protests that claimed the lives of two people swept across the province after farmworkers in the grape-growing De Doorns region went on strike on Nov. 6 for higher pay. Calm has been restored to most towns since Nov. 17, after the Congress of South African Trade Unions brokered a two-week suspension of the strike pending a minimum-wage review.
Under South African law, the government can only legislate new minimum wages from April when the prevailing rates will have been in place for 12 months, Labor Minister Edna Molewa told reporters today in Pretoria, the capital. Public hearings on the issue are under way and will end on Dec. 13, she said.
Cosatu said the minister was undermining the negotiating process and needed to do more to meet worker demands for the minimum daily wage to be increased to 150 rand ($17) from 70 rand so that further strikes are avoided.
A resumption of the strikes “can set back labor relations on farms by decades and could see a reversal to the low-level civil war we all witnessed on farms a few weeks ago,” Cosatu said in an e-mailed statement. “The entire country saw the desperation and anger of the workers against these low wages.”
Agriculture makes up about 2.1 percent of South Africa’s gross domestic product directly, and farms produce about 6.5 percent of the country’s exports, including wine, citrus fruit, corn, grapes, sugar, apples and pears.
The protests have already caused about 120 million rand in damages, with grape growers hardest hit, according to AgriSA, the main farmers’ group.