Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

THE strike action that has hit the farming area of De Doorns in the Western Cape is likely to escalate as talks between farmer representatives and unions broke down on Friday.

Employers’ representatives claimed that their lives and safety had been threatened following the conclusion of the talks, which did not yield an agreement on wages.

Farmers’ representatives told workers to go back to the farms and "sort out their problems with individual farms". Earlier this week, workers threatened to bring farming to a standstill if their demands were not met.

Striking workers in the area want their daily pay to be doubled, with a minimum wage of R150 per day. They are also demanding an improvement in their living conditions.

The strike has already cost farmers millions of rand amid indications that it could spread to other areas in the province. De Doorns produces table grapes, mainly for the export market. Farmers in the area employ 8,000 full-time workers and 8,000 seasonal ones.

Talks between farmers and their workers started on Wednesday following days of violent protests that left some vineyards in flames. Several people, including farmers, were arrested.

"We have just concluded the negotiations and we have told the workers to go sort out their problems from farm to farm ... Our people were threatened and were told that their lives were at risk," said Porchia Adams, spokeswoman for Agri Wes-Cape, which represents farmers in the province.

"We have said before we are not mandated to negotiate on wages ... government sets the minimum wages," she said.

Earlier, the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) called on Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant to intervene in the crisis and said the situation was "politically motivated".

"Fedusa will urgently appeal to the minister of labour and the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration to intervene in the current matter, as the unrest can only be solved through negotiations with all the relevant role players," said Gretchen Humphries, deputy general secretary of operations. "Their role in the matter is of great importance to resolve the increasingly volatile situation."

Workers’ representatives were not immediately available for comment on Friday.