Labour unrest could harm industry

Quinton Mtyala

AS strikes on farms in the Western Cape spread, the provincial government and business said the impact of the labour unrest could harm South Africa’s agricultural exports.

Farm workers in the De Doorns area have been striking for three weeks, demanding that their minimum wages be increased from R71 to R150 per day.

Outgoing Cape Chamber of Commerce president Michael Bagraim said the business community was “extremely concerned” by the violent nature of the strike.

“It is unexpected. Six months ago Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant set the minimum wages for farm workers. We expected an outcry then but nothing happened. The Labour Ministry even consulted Cosatu,” Bagraim said.

“It’s very strange, it seems that we are affected by Mangaung politics and also because the Western Cape is controlled by the DA. It [strikes] won’t stop now, and we expect it to spread,” he said.

And indeed yesterday the strikes spread to several farms in Ceres, Robertson, Riebeeck Kasteel and Somerset West areas as farm workers sought an increase to their minimum wages.

Provincial police spokesman André Traut said 14 areas had been affected by labour unrest, but the police’s focus was on De Doorns, Ceres, Robertson, Prince Albert Hamlet and Somerset West.

Agriculture MEC Gerrit van Rensburg’s spokesman Wouter Kriel said it had been estimated that the deciduous fruit industry would lose R114-million in export revenues after two weeks of strikes.

“Farm workers are losing R28-million in wages for every week that they strike,” said Kriel.

But in De Doorns, farm workers were adamant that they would not cease their work stoppage until they were guaranteed a minimum wage of R150 per day.

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