Grabouw farmworkers strike to continue into next week

File: Workers marched to the gates of the farm on Tuesday insisting to speak to the employer. Photo by Mzi Velapi

Farmworkers in Grabouw led by CSAAWU have been on strike since Monday, 6 May.

Farmworkers in Grabouw led by their trade union the Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU) have met with their employer, Oak Valley Estate, to discuss the demands that the workers have put on the table. The workers have been on strike since the beginning of this week over wage increases, the conversion of hostels into family units and ending of labour brokers. The workers want a daily wage increase from R162 to R250.

According to CSAAWU national organising secretary, Karel Swart, they have met with the management to discuss the workers’ demands with the help of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) but the company has maintained its position that it will only open negotiations in June for the annual salary increase in July.

Permanently casual labour

On Tuesday, Elitsha spoke to some of the women workers who highlighted stories of being casuals for years. Hlumelo Lusawana, a 52-year-old father of three, works as a fruit picker and has been a casual since 2014. “As a casual, I don’t have a provident fund like the permanent workers and we get a bonus of R100 a month and that is paid at the end of the contract,” he said. He used to stay at the hostels but because these were not designed to accommodate families he had to go stay with his wife in an informal settlement. “My wife works as a seasonal worker in one of the farms around here. We rent a shack for R700 a month and that is where most of my salary goes to,” he said.

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“Our employer does not see us as humans. The conditions at the hostels are really bad and the hostels are no different from the ones our father used to live in during apartheid when they were working as mineworkers,” said Luswana. He, like other workers that Elitsha spoke to, claimed that the so-called Coloured workers get better treatment from the farm managers. “They stay in houses with their wives and families, meanwhile we are subjected to inhumane living conditions at the hostels and they are made permanent within a month of working here,” he said.

CSAAWU’s Karel Swart said they are aware of the different living conditions between the ‘African workers’ and the ‘Coloured’ workers and it is something that they are trying to address as a union and to unite the workers.

Another casual worker, Chuma Kenene, said he started working at the farm in 1999. He, just like Lusawana moved out of the hostel because he wanted to be with his family. Both Lusawana and Kenene raised concerns about the expiry date of their contracts. Lusawana’s contract was supposed to end the same day we spoke to him and Kunene’s ends on the 15th of May. “I don’t know what it means since we are on strike,” said Kenene.

Truck drivers’ working conditions

Stoffels Majolla (58) and Johans Renier (28) complained of long hours of work as truck drivers. Majolla is a code 14 driver and has been working at the farm for 15 years. “During on-season I work from 05h00 up until 23h00 or sometimes even later. I make about six trips a day taking apples and pears to the packers,” he said. Majolla stays in staff quarters with his wife and three children.

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Renier on the other hand, has a code 10 driver’s license and he gets paid a basic salary of R1,000 a month. “I work 9 and half hours per shift and there is no difference in pay whether one is working the day or the night shift. Also we don’t have danger allowance,” he said. Renier complained that when he does shop deliveries and works beyond the nine and half hours they do not get paid extra.

According to CSAAWU, they will intensify the strike next week until their demands are met.

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