S. African trade union vows to push for higher wage for farmworkers
Posted Tuesday, February 5 2013 at 14:26
The Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) has vowed to push for higher wages in the agricultural sector shortly after the government set a minimum wage.
The trade union said that it will "fearlessly continue to push for higher wages in the sector, with the clarion call for a 150 rand (about 18 U.S. dollars) per day minimum as our mandate. We will do so through any and all militant, but legal and responsible methods."
"Additionally we will engage with all relevant stakeholders in our attempt to make living wages viable, including innovative methods such as possibly pushing for tax-breaks for farm owners, lower export/import duties, pushing for retailers, exporters, 'middle-men' and traders to pay more to farm owners and possibly even government subsidies," it said on Monday. The FAWU made the statement after Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant set a minimum wage of 105 rand (about 12 dollars) for farmworkers following a devastating strike in the Western Cape Province.
From March 1 this year, farmworkers who work nine hours a day should be paid 105 rand per day, the minister said. The current daily minimum wage for farmworkers is 69 rand (about eight dollars). The FAWU described the minister's announcement as "a short term victory". "FAWU is inspired by the courageous announcement by the Minister and by the preceding recommendations by members of the Employment Conditions Commission (ECC) to adjust wages by more than 50 percent. FAWU believes that this meets our short term demand of a minimum wage increase for farm workers of not less than 105 rand per day," the union said. It said this raise of over 50 percent is a meaningful step towards obtaining a living wage for farm workers. "It is unprecedented to have a wage increase of over 50 percent, but it was the least that could have been expected in light of the unacceptably low minimum wage of R69 per day, enough to buy only four loafs of bread a day."
The union said its members will also continue to negotiate on a farm by farm basis and such negotiations should, hopefully, result in agreement on issues such as working conditions like hours of work and health or safety as well as on living conditions like shelter and services on electricity and water. Thousands of farmworkers in the Western Cape Province downed tools in August last year and also in January to press their demand for a higher pay.
They asked for 150 rand (about 18 dollars) per day, a demand rejected by Agri SA, an association of farmers. The strike, which brought agriculture in the province to a standstill, was suspended in mid-January pending negotiations between farmworkers and farmers. The new minimum wage was based on an agreement between farmworkers and individual farmers who accepted the 105-rand benchmark.The government held countrywide hearings on a new minimum wage for the agricultural sector before it announced the new minimum age.