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 Western Cape farm workers protests are set to flare up again as the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) said on Thursday it was planning to strike because farmers had been dismissing workers who had returned to work after the strike was called off this week.

Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich said the labour movement would issue notices of strikes to farmers, and that the ceasefire he had declared earlier this week with farmers was now off.

Mr Ehrenreich said he heard reports, particularly from De Doorns, that "mass dismissals have occurred", although he had received no specific numbers or been told which farms were affected.

Bawsi Agricultural Workers Union of SA (Bawusa) secretary general Nosey Pieterse said he had briefed Mr Ehrenreich on Thursday on instances in the districts of De Doorns, Wolseley and Touwsrivier where returning workers had been summarily dismissed.

The two labour movements have been co-operating since the unprotected series of strikes first began last November, although they have no formal alliance.

But the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu), a Cosatu affiliate that has members in the agricultural sector, has distanced itself from any further strike actions.

Farm workers in the table grape growing region of the Hex River Valley and neighbouring areas embarked on a strike on January 9 after calling off a previous round of labour action last month.

They are demanding an increase in their daily statutory wage to R150 from R69 and an improvement in their living and working conditions.

Mr Ehrenreich and Mr Pieterse singled out Hex River Table Grape Growers Association chairman Michael Laubscher as the one farmer who has consistently opposed any wage increase and for encouraging fellow farmers to victimise returning workers.

Mr Laubscher has disputed this and accuses Cosatu and Bawusa of being "economical with the truth."

He claims that he sent a letter out earlier this week asking his fellow farmers to be sensitive to returning workers as they had been without food and wages for at least two weeks. However, he could not ask farmers not to take any disciplinary action against workers if they felt that equipment or crop had been deliberately damaged.

Mr Laubscher said farmers were pleased to have workers return to harvesting and packing as it was the peak of the season.

Fawu general secretary Katishi Masemola said that he had not been notified of any call to strike by either Cosatu or Bawusa, and he would not support one.

"We have done an assessment and many workers are nearing starvation levels. Cool heads have to prevail. It would have been decent for Mr Ehrenreich to let me know," Mr Masemola said.

Fawu claims to have up to 2,500 members in the De Doorns area, and Bawusa has said its membership in the Western Cape had risen to 10,000 from about 6,000. However, both unions still have to provide proof of membership numbers.

Mr Masemola praised Mr Laubscher for sending his letter as it showed leadership in a crisis.

However, Mr Ehrenreich and Mr Pieterse accused Mr Laubscher of not showing leadership by not galvanising his fellow farmers.