Call for unionisation of farmworkers
THE South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) has warned that it would mobilise a nationwide campaign which could include tough measures to force an end to the exploitation and abuse of farmworkers.
Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi told the Congress of the Commercial Stevedoring Agricultural And Allied Workers’ Union (CSAAWU) in Cape Town that the federation’s congress had demanded a moratorium on farmworker evictions and also called for the provision of decent housing for workers.
“We have resolved to mobilise a campaign to end the abuse of farmworkers and their families. This congress must form a building block to confront employers who refuse to embrace the ethos of the new democratic South Africa.
“We have power as black people, but we are not using it. We must return to the power of selective consumer boycotts where we economically punish the employers who refuse to allow farmworkers to belong to trade unions. That is abusing their right to free association,” he said.
Vavi, who spoke about his experiences as a “victim of child labour” on a farm in the Northern Cape where he was born and grew up, and of how he witnessed the abuse of his family by the farm owner, said there was a great need for the “marginalised, often abused and most vulnerable workers” to be unionised.
He said about 95% of agricultural workers countrywide did not belong to a union, and 76% of those who were not unionised included domestic workers, taxi and truck drivers, as well as hospitality industry workers.
“These workers work under appalling conditions and often feel defenceless against their employers,” he added.
In the case of farmworkers, he said even though the “dop” system and child labour had been abolished, their legacy “haunted” workers and families in their daily lives. “Even 23 years into our democracy, farmers continue to abuse workers, dispossessing them of their livestock by either forcing them to sell it at a cheap price, enforcing quota or impounding it.
“We know how painful it is to see your livestock which could have been an inheritance from parents being owned by someone else after giving you a pittance,” Vavi said.
He also rejected the basic minimum wage which comes into effect next year as being a “sellout” agreement, saying it would do very little to improve the condition of farmworkers.
The general secretary of CSAAWU, Trevor Christians, said despite the “hostile” conditions that the union worked under, it had managed to grow its membership since its establishment in 2006, but had produced a road map on solidifying the gains.
“We have even received support from international bodies, some of whom had sent delegates to this congress,” he said.
Christians said in the Western Cape, farmworkers were still subjected to beatings by their employers, victimisation and intimidation.
He said the union was planning to serve a notice on Nedlac regarding the laying off of farmworkers, including women.
“The situation is quite serious. More workers are being laid off and the farm owners attribute this to the current drought and have threatened to lay off even more,” added CSAAWU deputy general secretary Karel Swart.
He accused some farmers of employing foreigners above locals and thereby creating conditions for xenophobic attacks.
Swart said CSAAWU would step up its involvement in building “social unionisation” by addressing social needs of its members and the communities. “The community struggle for access to water, housing and electricity cannot be separated from their working conditions,” Swart added.
South African Federation of Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi addresses the Congress of the Commercial Stevedoring Agricultural And Allied Workers Union, flanked by Andre Adams.