Call for union­i­sa­tion of farm­work­ers

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - NEWS - BULELWA PAYI

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.

PIC­TURE: CINDY WAXA/ANA

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.

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