Farmworkers’ organisations demand “real ethical standards and trading” from wine monopolies

CSAAWU wants the Scandinavian wine monopolies to use their power to compel farmers to improve the working and living conditions of farmworkers. Photo by Mzi Velapi

The quantity and quality of wine available in Scandinavia is strictly controlled by the governments and tenders are issued for wine producers.

Western Cape based farmworkers’ organisations led by the the Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU) braved cold and wet weather on Saturday as they were determined to hand over a memorandum of demands to the Norwegian and Swedish consulate in Cape Town. The protestors said that they want to highlight the oppressive working and living conditions of farmworkers on South African farms that sell wine to monopolies in the Scandinavian countries.

“Our protest march is to continue exposing the oppressive working and living conditions of farmworkers on South African farms that are linked to the monopolies in Norway, Sweden and Finland because you buy and sell wine from these farms,” reads the statement.

CSAAWU, a South African Federation of Trade Union (SAFTU) affiliate, said that the rights incorporated in the ethical standards are only paper rights as the exploitation and exposure to inhumane working and living conditions of farmworkers continues unabated. “CSAAWU demands that the monopolies use their power to ensure that the rights of farmworkers are protected and that they do not silently endorse and embrace paper rights. CSAAWU also appeals to consumers in Scandinavia, Europe and South Africa to become directly involved in becoming ethical and conscious consumers and be against the daily inhumane treatment of farmworkers,” the union said.

The union is demanding to meet with the monopolies so that they can give input to the principles of ethical standards, and want the companies to share the names of the farms that are selected for audits so that the union can also visit the farms.

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Activist, Naomi Thomas from Ceres warned that there would be a repeat of 2012 if the monopolies do not respond positively to the demands of farmworkers. “The warning is out! 2012 will repeat itself if they don’t give us adequate answers,” she said. 2012 saw the biggest and the longest strike by farmworkers in the Boland region and the Western Cape, in support of 21 demands that included a wage increase from R69 to R150 a day and an 8-hour workday.

Annuschka Williams from the Trust for Community Outreach and Education (TCOE) said that as women, they do not only demand a living wage but also want land.

CSAAWU’s national organising secretary, Karel Swart, who was one of the leaders arrested during the strike at Oak Valley Estate in May this year, told the crowd that the farmers have written to funders of the union based in Scandinavian countries to stop funding the union. “They claim that we are a violent union and that our funders must stop funding us,” said Swart. Oak Valley, he added, wrote to the Department of Labour to have the union deregistered.

The Oak Valley workers went on strike in May demanding an increase in their basic wage from R162 to R250 per day, the banning of labour brokers and that the single-sex hostels be converted into family units. “Our people work and live under horrific conditions and we are prepared to fight Oak Valley, and in fact we are prepared to wage a boycott on all of South Africa’s agricultural products if we do not get a positive response to our demands,” he said.

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SAFTU’s general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, commended the bravery and the unity that the workers showed in coming out to demand better working and living conditions. “We want to say to the ambassador that you have the power to stop what is happening on our farms – please use it,” said Vavi.

“We are also saying no to R18 an hour minimum wage; we must earn no less than R8,500 a month,” he said.

CSAAWU’s memorandum listed 23 demands about improving working and living conditions of farmworkers.

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