THE protracted strike at dairy producer DairyBelle’s Bloemhof plant in the North West is close to a resolution, with a memorandum of understanding signed by parties late on Thursday night, Gerrit Oosthuizen, commercial director of DairyBelle, said on Friday.
This follows threats by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) that should parties fail to resolve the wage dispute by Monday next week, it would mobilise the agriculture sector in the province to join the strike — widening the unrest on farms that began last year and which has thus far been limited to the Western Cape.
The industrial action at DairyBelle, which turned violent and led to the arrest of about 20 workers, began on December 3.
Cosatu affiliate the Food and Allied Workers’ Union (Fawu) on Friday said the memorandum signed on Thursday night included a palatable wage deal for its members at the DairyBelle plant, but members were yet to formally accept the agreement.
Fawu provincial secretary Tseleng Tau said the union was discussing the developments with members on Friday and a concrete decision would be communicated to the company by Wednesday next week.
He declined to provide details on the deal, saying members had to agree before the union could publicise it.
The union initially demanded an increase of R1,200 for its members and reduced the demand to R800, while DairyBelle offered R266, Mr Tau said.
It is understood that the company has increased its offer to workers.
Mr Oosthuizen said these were "positive developments" that could bring the protracted labour dispute to an end.
"It is just a matter of dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. From our side, we think we have a deal," he said.
The strike was marred by violence and intimidation. Total damage to company property was still being tallied but was estimated at R10m. Company vehicles were attacked with stones and petrol bombs.
Mr Tau said the memorandum also included provisions to help the company and workers repair their working relationship going forward, as it had been acrimonious during the strike.
Reports of violence and intimidation of workers would be discussed with the company as some union members were also victims.
Fawu is set to hold a broader meeting with farm workers in the North West on Sunday to discuss their working conditions.
"We want to take advantage of the issues raised in the Western Cape ... to just touch base with workers and understand what they are going through," he said.
Fawu had made a submission to the Department of Labour during its public hearings on farm worker conditions on behalf of its members throughout the country, he said.