Negotiations to continue during farm strikes

Labour dept insists wage negotiations will continue regardless of the farmworker strike.

De Doorns farm workers went on a rampage over salaries on 6 November 2012. Picture: Aletta Gardner/EWN

CAPE TOWN - The Labour Department said on Tuesday negotiations between farming unions and employers will continue even as a potentially crippling strike goes ahead in the Western Cape on Wednesday.

Thousands of farmworkers are expected to protest across the province.

They are demanding that their daily wages be increased from R69 to R150.

Labour Department Director General Nkosinathi Nhleko met with both unions and farmers this week in a bid to avert the industrial action.

The Building and Allied Workers Union of South Africa (Bawusa)'s Nosey Pieterse said given the volatility of the situation, violence may flare up.

Police have urged strikers to be disciplined.

Government has made a similar appeal adding talks must continue no matter what.

Meanwhile, a labour analyst said both farmers and their workers stand to lose in such a potentially crippling strike.

The Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry also warned that calls by unions for an international boycott of South African farm goods in support of the industrial action, is irresponsible.

A leading fruit export company said if the farmworkers strike goes ahead it will lose millions of rands if prized table grapes rot on the vine.

The Afrifresh Group exports table grapes which are picked and packed in Upington, Saron and the Hex River Valley.

There are currently 18 million cartons of grapes that are being prepped for the export market in the Hex River Valley alone.

The exporter said if protest action goes ahead and lasts for several days the fruit will rot instead of reaching international markets.

Dirk Lategan of Afrifresh said this is a crucial period for the export market.

"There's quite a scarcity of table grapes at the moment so the prices are at least 10 to 15 percent higher than last year. We're definitely going to lose a lot of market share if we can't ship this food and sell it."

Independent analyst Gavin Wood said, "It is going to cost the employers and employees, it is going to sour labour relations in the area and it is going to contaminate a lot of the local government politics.

Unions are standing firm by saying the industrial action will drag on until all their demands are met.

In November, two people were killed and vineyards torched during a violent salary strike.