Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich briefing media on Wednesday. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich briefing media on Wednesday. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

THE Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) on Wednesday announced that the Western Cape farm workers’ strike would be suspended in most towns in the province for a week to "give negotiations a chance".

However, the union said the strike action would continue in De Doorns as workers there were "still standing by" their daily wage demand of R150.

Farm workers have been on strike since last week, demanding that their daily wages be doubled. Cosatu claimed on Tuesday that some farm workers in areas such as Clanwilliam had agreed to daily wages of R105.

Less than 10% of farm workers in the province belong to unions.

Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich said on Wednesday that the conditions for the suspension of the strike were that farmers should acknowledge the "Clanwilliam agreement as the model for other towns". He said this would lead to unions and workers pursuing agreements on a town by town basis.

The suspension is until January 22.

"The benefits to workers from government’s offer on Tuesday in respect of supporting the town by town negotiations, as well as moving the implementation date of the sectoral determination to the end of February, represents a great victory for workers," Mr Ehrenreich said.

"But given AgriSA’s statement that they do not have a mandate in respect of a process for substantive negotiations and disciplinary issues, we will suspend the strike for a week. Should there not be a positive reply from AgriSA on the negotiations, the strike will resume generally, or in the affected towns by (next week Wednesday)".

Mr Ehrenreich said workers in De Doorns, the epicentre of the strike, would continue with their wage protests.

"Workers in De Doorns have asked not to be included in the Clanwilliam deal for R105 ... they are still standing by the R150 ... generally workers feel that we should give negotiations a chance," Mr Ehrenreich said.

Earlier, the Western Cape grape farmer who had made a commitment to pay a minimum wage of R105 a day to workers had accused Cosatu of not "playing ball".

Cape Orchards Company director and farmer Gerhard de Kock said he had not signed an agreement, but had made a commitment to implement the new wage from the first quarter of this year. In return, Cosatu would undertake that his and other farmers’ workers would return to work on Wednesday.

"Cosatu are not playing ball. Workers in the Hex River Valley, in particular, have not returned to work, despite Cosatu’s promises," he said.

Meanwhile, the South Africa Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) said on Wednesday they investigate claims of inhumane treatment of striking Western Cape farm workers.

Spokesman Isaac Mangena said the commission had received numerous complaints of human rights abuses in the Boland district involving farm workers and rural dwellers, including women and children.

"The SAHRC is monitoring the protests and has to date received complaints against the South African Police Service, the farmers and the private security companies," he said.

These complaints included allegations of police colluding with farmers, use of excessive force against workers, police brutality, unfair labour practices, exploitative living and working conditions, and racist and inhumane treatment of workers and rural dwellers.

"We call for an urgent resolution of the wage disputes between the farmers and the farm workers, and appeal to all parties to act within the confines of the law."

Mr Mangena said the SAHRC would investigate human rights abuses within its mandate and refer other complaints to the appropriate institutions.

Western Cape police spokesman Frederick van Wyk said there were sporadic incidents involving striking workers in some areas on Wednesday, and that police would act where appropriate.

He said 26 people were arrested overnight in connection with protests in Villiersdorp, Kraaifontein, and Ladysmith.

With Sapa