Cosatu Western Cape provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich.  Picture: THE TIMES
Cosatu Western Cape provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich. Picture: THE TIMES

FARMERS should offer incentive bonuses more widely than is the case to supplement income of farm workers, South Africa’s largest agricultural body Agri SA said on Wednesday.

However, this should be negotiated at farm level because "practices and circumstances differ between farms", Agri SA said, after a tentative agreement was reached on Wednesday to end the strike.

Agri SA denied a claim by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) that it had made a new offer to workers, however.

"We weren’t part of any kind of formal settlement around this issue," said Annelize Crosby, Agri SA’s parliamentary liaison officer.

"There is nothing new on the table. What we said from the outset is that these negotiations should take place at the farm level. They seem to have now accepted that. We have not agreed to the date of January 9, we have not agreed to any wage of R150."

The harvest season for table grapes in the Western Cape will start at the beginning of next month.

Tony Ehrenreich, Cosatu’s Western Cape provincial secretary, warned farmers not to punish workers for participating in the strike and for any actions they undertook during the strike, which caused damage of about R120m, says Agri SA.

The agreement meant workers would "conditionally" return to work pending a wage settlement negotiation with their employer. They would be allowed to join any union of their choice, which would negotiate with the farmer.

"If no agreement is reached by January 9, workers on those farms will revert to taking action again by this date. This action will be in compliance with the Labour Relations Act," said Mr Ehrenreich.

Anton Rabe, chairman of Agri SA’s labour committee, on Wednesday called on the government to revisit agricultural policies and to structure taxes in a manner that enhanced profitability, while enabling the sector to provide quality jobs.

He said that the big gap in social wellbeing and prosperity between communities held great risks for sustainability and this needed to be addressed urgently.

Mr Rabe said the wage challenges were not exclusively the reason for the violence as the matter of seasonal workers who have to earn their annual income over a few months played a significant role in fuelling the dispute and resentment.

He said pressure applied by means of anarchy to resolve disputes, irrespective of the long-term consequences of the industry, was unfortunate because it indicated disrespect for the rule of law.

With Bloomberg