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Oliphant mum on farm protests

The Labour Ministry has not said anything on the widespread violent farmworkers strike

A small boy walks among the rubble strewn across the N1 highway at De Doorns on 9 January 2013. Picture: Aletta Gardner/EWN

CAPE TOWN - The National Agriculture Department on Friday said it was up to the Labour Ministry to help keep wage talks to end a chaotic farm workers strike in the Western Cape on track.

The strike has been characterised by violence which has seen dozens of strikers arrested.

Farmworkers are demanding, among others, a R150 daily wage.

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant's office has declined to comment over the past few days on the industrial action.

Unions say around 60 percent of farmers in the Hex River Valley have agreed to return to the negotiations table.

Farmers in Citrusdal and Piketberg have also revived wage talks.

The National Agriculture Department's Palesa Mokumele said this was encouraging.

"We hope that negotiations will continue. We hope that people will sit around the table and voice their concerns."

Meanwhile, an agricultural union leading the strike has welcomed the fact that some farmers have agreed to return to the negotiating table.

Building and Allied Workers Union of SA (Bawusa) spokesperson Nosey Pieterse said, "Not all farmers have agreed to return to the negotiations. We believe if we apply more pressure we will get the other farmers to join in."

Pieterse said a decision has been taken to intensify the strike.

On Thursday police arrested five people taking part in the indefinite farmworkers protest in De Doorns.

They also used rubber bullets to disperse protestors who had started a fire.

At the same time, Western Cape Agriculture MEC Gerrit van Rensburg called on protesters to refrain from violence.

In November, two people were killed and vineyards torched when farmworkers embarked on an illegal strike.

The industrial action started in De Doorns before quickly spreading to other farming towns.

They were demanding better salaries and improved living conditions.