Grabouw farmworkers’ strike continues

United Front provincial chairperson, Abraham Agulhas, reading the memorandum before handing it over to Gerco Engelbrecht representing Oak Valley Estate. Photo by Mzi Velapi

SAFTU and United Front have called for a consumer boycott of goods sourced from Oak Valley Estate.

In an effort to intensify the ongoing strike by farmworkers in Grabouw, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) and the United Front (UF) have called for a consumer boycott of all products sourced from Oak Valley Estate. Farmworkers there have been on strike for three weeks demanding better working and living conditions at the mixed farm that produces red meat, fruit, wine and flowers. Oak Valley supplies flowers and other goods to retail stores like Woolworths, Checkers and Spar.

Whilst delivering the memorandum to Gerco Engelbrecht of Oak Valley, the United Front provincial chairperson, Abraham Agulhas, said that the demands of the workers are reasonable and the employer can meet them but they choose not to. The farmworkers are demanding a daily wage of R250, the abolition of the labour brokering system and that the single-sex hostel be converted into family units.

“The problem is that we are dealing with an arrogant employer who has pronounced that the strike is illegal and is refusing to listen to the workers,” said Agulhas.

According to the union representing the striking workers, the Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU), the hostels are meant for African workers, whilst ‘Coloured’ workers stay in better houses with their families and the white workers stay in big and ‘posh’ houses. The union feels that the fact that only African male farmworkers are made to stay in the hostels is racist, creating divisions between the ‘Coloured’ and African workers. They have laid complaints against Oak Valley with the South African Human Rights Commission. “We won’t allow Oak Valley to divide us; they are trying to divide the Coloured workers from the African workers. We won’t allow that to happen,” said Mark Pekeur from CSAAWU.

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SAFTU’s general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, marched with the workers and the community to Oak Valley Estate’s gates where the police blocked the marchers from coming close to the gate. Vavi gave the Public Order Policing Unit a tongue lashing. “You are ill-prepared to deal with strikes and protests. All you have right now are rubber bullets and teargas. You are protecting Oak Valley, a company that wants to maintain apartheid legacy. You want to maintain a system that exploits you, If I had time I would talk about the poor working conditions that you are subjected to”, said Vavi.

SAFTU general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, says that they will be engaging the CCMA on ‘unfair’ picketing rules. Photo by Mzi Velapi

Vavi said that the trade union federation is going to write to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) with regards to the picketing rules that “favour the employer”. “The new labour law amendments state that if the workers and the employer do not agree on the picketing rules, then the CCMA has to impose the rules. Now its quite clear that the CCMA is not a neutral facilitator and we will engage them on this. We will also be writing to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to highlight our unhappiness with the new labour law amendments,” he said.

“I was also born on a farm, and today you showed the rest of the country what is possible when you stand up for the poor. We must unite for the conditions of Black people, the poor people and the workers,” said Vavi.

Under the auspices of the South African Human Rights Commission, Vavi and CSAAWU leadership went to see the single-sex hostel on the farm, escorted by two police vans.

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Elitsha‘s numerous requests to Oak Valley for comment yielded no response from Engelbrecht who forwarded the email to a ‘Chris’ with a remark about Elitsha‘s “reporting style”.

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