South Africa: Police, Striking Farm Workers Clash

Striking farm workers

VENTURES AFRICA – South African police have fired rubber bullets into crowds of striking farm workers in the Western Cape province of the country, as talks between employers and workers fell apart this week.

Hundreds of farm workers gathered on the main motorway passing through the Western Cape region, building barricades and setting tyres alight disrupting passage, while also throwing stones at passing vehicles, according to Reuters.

Police responded to the strike by firing rubber bullets into the crowds in an attempt to disperse the strike, which employers had hoped to avoid through negotiations which broke down earlier this week.

The labourers are mostly seasonal workers employed to pick and package fruit – mostly grapes in the vineyard dominated region – in the surrounding farms, and are currently paid 69 Rand ($8) minimum wage per day. The strikers are demanding a pay increase, asking for 150 Rand ($ 17.5) pay per day.

The farm workers’ demands erupted last year, joining the string of pay-related disputes that erupted across South Africa’s various industry sectors in the second half of the year – the most widely publicised strikes occurring in the mining sector.

In December, multiple farms were subjected to stoppages in production as farm workers walked out amidst demands for these pay increases. Warehouses were set alight by protestors, and some food shortages were felt in areas of the country- prompting the negotiations which broke down this week.

“We are struggling. It is very difficult to survive on 69 rand a day. School is starting and we don’t have money for school clothes…There is no food on the table and my children often go to bed hungry,” one farm worker, Lena Lottering told Reuters.

“Now we get 65 rand. What is that? We want 150 rand. Farmers would rather employ security guards and buy new cars than pay us,” added Aubrey Louw, who has worked on the region’s farms since 1970.

With strikes opening the new year, concerns are rife that the economic instability which plagued Africa’s largest economy in the close of 2012 may be set to cause more problems in the coming period, while many are calling for the government to place more focus on labour relations.