Farmer representatives threatened during wage talks: Agri-Wes Cape

09 November 2012 - 15:58 By Sapa
Striking farm workers blocking the N1 highway in De Doorns, Western Cape. File photo.
Striking farm workers blocking the N1 highway in De Doorns, Western Cape. File photo.

Farmer representatives were threatened while in wage dispute talks for De Doorns grape harvesters on Friday morning, employer body Agri-Wes Cape said.

"They were busy with discussions and left for a break. Something must have happened during the break, because when union representatives came back, they made threats," said spokeswoman Porchia Adams.

She said the representatives' lives and safety were threatened.

The threats had been reported to police and it was expected that a case would be opened.

"We take this in a very serious light," Adams said.

Despite the threats, representatives decided to return to the talks in the interests of finding a solution, she said.

Workers have gathered on the N1 since Monday demanding a R150 a day wage, improved living conditions, electricity, and an end to illegal evictions, illegal immigrant workers, and labour brokers.

Earlier in the week, protests resulted in vineyards being burnt, a number of arrests, and the closure of the N1 between Touws River and De Doorns.

Provincial police spokesman Lt-Col Andre Traut described the situation as "very quiet" on Friday morning.

Wouter Kriel, spokesman for agriculture MEC Gerrit van Rensburg, said many of the workers wanted to return to their jobs, but feared for their safety and that of their families.

The talks, which started on Tuesday, are being chaired by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration at the Worcester civic centre.

Farmers' representatives, the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), the Black Association of the Wine and Spirit Industry, and the Hex Rivier Plaaswerkers' Belange Groep (Hex River Farmworkers' Interest Group) were party to the talks.

On Friday, Agri-Wes Cape CEO Carl Opperman asked workers to return to farms on Monday and to directly engage with their employers on any labour issues they had.

"It is of the utmost importance that the good relations between workers and producers that rule the Hex River Valley continue as before."

On Thursday, after Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille was heckled by supporters of expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema while visiting the area, Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich said she had been warned to stay away.

Ehrenreich said Agri SA had taken a stand against the need for collective bargaining and this had incensed workers.

"Cosatu continues to support the workers' demand of R150 per day and rejects the R80 offered by the farmers as an insult and return to slave wages."