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CSAAWU welcomes the issuing of labour practice contravention notices to several farms and the stated commitment of the Western Cape government to root out farmworker abuse.
This stems from an investigation by the Department of Labour, and assisted by the Western Cape Government, following the exposure of farmworker abuse and exploitation in the recently released documentary film, Bitter Grapes.
The Western Cape MEC for Economic Opportunities, Mr Alan Winde, confirmed in a statement that farmers will be given 60 days to take corrective action, and 14 days to rectify the most critical failures. (http://www.gov.za/speeches/wine-documentary-allegations-17-nov-2016-0000)
“Of particular concern were the contraventions found at one farm, where workers did not have access to safe drinking water, and where housing was not of an acceptable standard,” Mr Winde said in a statement.
Mr Winde added: “This investigation has brought clear evidence to light that there are employees in our economy who receive very poor treatment. This was never ever acceptable, and it still isn’t. It will not be tolerated. I will be engaging with organised agriculture. We will take a hard line against these acts, and root out offenders. We cannot allow unethical operations at some farms to put people’s well-being and an entire industry, which employs over 200 000 people, in jeopardy.”
The Department of Labour’s investigation and the subsequent issuing of contravention notices confirm the truth of the film’s investigations, and underscores the significance of the current strike by workers at the Robertson Winery.
This week, the strike at the Winery will enter it’s third month, amid increasing hardship amongst the workers and their families. Winery management continues to pressure workers into compromising on their demands, even though management has failed to compromise or provide any significant offer or proposal to the striking workers.
The strike at the Winery is not just about wages, as Strike Committee Spokesperson Denico Dube explains.
“This strike is about more than just wages. It is also about restoring the dignity of black workers at the company. Black workers must go through a three-clock system or even more, when coming in. Black workers must clock in and out when they go to toilet, for lunch or even just a smoke break. White employees don’t clock in at all,” says Dube.
Unfair pay and racial discrimination are also rife at the company, as fellow Strike Committee Spokesperson, Emille Maseko explains.
“Women get paid less than men for doing the same job. We also have a situation where a White mechanic who was employed only recently is getting paid R18 000 while a black mechanic who has been working at the company for more than 13 years is only earning R8 000,” says Maseko.
Maseko explains further that at the company, “White mechanics have their toilet, and black mechanics have to use another toilet. There is also discrimination in the benefits given to employees. Only three black employees receive a housing subsidy from the company. Workers didn’t even know about the housing subsidy benefits until the union came along.”
Striking workers had initially demanded an R8 500 living wage, but backed down on this demand and accepted the company’s offer of a R400 wage increase. However, the strike continues due to the company’s refusal to, among others, sign a “Peace Clause” agreeing not to pursue disciplinary action against those involved in the strike; to back-date a pay increase to May this year when negotiations began and; to pay workers their usual Christmas bonus.