STRIKING farm workers expressed their dissatisfaction that Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant did not come personally to address them during a public hearing on farm wages conducted by the Department of Labour in Paarl on Tuesday night.
"Why does the minister not come here and explain things herself? This government must not take us for granted," one farm worker said.
This was the second in a series of public meetings being conducted in the strike-gripped Western Cape. Other hearings are due to take place in De Doorns tonight and then in various other towns until Sunday.
The third wave of the agricultural strike, mainly of seasonal workers, has entered its second week and comes at the height of the grape harvesting season.
The farm workers are demanding an increase in their daily minimum wage to R150 from R69 per day.
Ms Oliphant set this wage in a sectoral determination in February last year.
She has also said that an announcement of a new daily minimum wage would be made before the end of next month, once the employment commission had finalised its report.
Ironically, the calls by the farm workers for the minister to appear before them echo a similar call made by Western Cape Premier and Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille late last week.
Ms Zille said that Ms Oliphant had the political and legal mandate to intervene directly in the strike.
The Democratic Alliance on Tuesday issued a statement saying they would question Ms Oliphant over her role in the strike.
Farmers have reported that almost all of their permanent employees have reported for work, and the harvest was being gathered.
At last night’s meeting, Department of Labour director for employment standards Titus Mtsweni explained that many farmers had said they could not afford the wage increase.
However, this was greeted with derision by many of the workers as they claimed the increase was affordable and even too little.
Meanwhile, farm workers in Clanwilliam have reached an agreement that might signal the end of the farm workers’ strike in the Western Cape, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) said on Tuesday.
"We are now close to resolving the dispute sooner rather than later," Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich told reporters.
He believed the agreement was a substantial step forward in the negotiations.
The Clanwilliam farmers had agreed to a wage of R105 a day, and those workers who had participated in the strike would not be victimised.
The agreement had been accepted by most farm workers. Mr Ehrenreich said the deal could serve as a model for the rest of the province, if AgriSA agreed to it on Wednesday.
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