South Africa faces key week for farm labor talks

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South Africa faces key week for farm labor talks

Farm worker bargaining in South Africa underwent revisions this week, with negotiations between government, labor and business set to resume Thursday, Nov. 29.

Earlier in the month, the government chose to suspend Sectoral Determination 13, the employment and minimum wage provision that should have been effective through February 2015. Minimum wage has been a point of contention throughout the month as vineyard workers in the Western Cape Province have engaged in often muddled strikes in the name of better pay.

Current minimum wage is set at ZAR70 (US$7.93) a day. Labor has asked for an increase to ZAR150 (US$16.99), which has been complicated by legal restrictions.

In a Nov. 27 press conference, Minister of Labour Mildred Oliphant clarified the back-and-forth negotiations and condemned violence that has dirtied demonstrations.

"The latest industrial action involving farmworkers in the Hex River valley/De Doorns has also seen unprecedented and unacceptable levels of violence which sadly led to the death of one worker," Oliphant said.

"The department recognises that farmworkers are among some of the most vulnerable workers and it is our duty to support them as much as we can. This is where the issue of sectoral determination comes in."

Interested parties have been given until the end of the month to submit input on the Sectoral Determination cancellation.

An academic institution has also been appointed to review the economic situation in the agricultural sector. The findings will be presented at the Nov. 29 meeting.

In the meantime, major agricultural organizations have come together under the newly formed Agri-Sector Unity Forum.

Hans van der Merwe, CEO of Agri SA, explained that the organization seeks to create a more solid agricultural voice to address major issues such as land reform, infrastructure and at the moment, labor concerns.

The forum has engaged the Department of Labour in labor revisions, participating in negotiations that have led to this point.

"The idea is to, as far as possible, to engage in a collective way. The first thing basically, which is currently underway, is how to engage with government on the Sectoral Determination of agricultural workers," van der Merwe said.

In regards to preventing situations like in Western Cape, van der Merwe said adequate preparation can often be difficult, but major players can make efforts to plan.

"As far as possible, you can be proactive in assisting with developing policies that can serve the best interests of all outliers and in that way, you may prevent certain situations. Or you may develop a proactive plan to say in a certain situation, how you should respond to it. I think that depends on a case by case basis," he said.

Hearings on the Sectoral Determination findings have been set for Dec. 13, later than the initially set Dec. 4 deadline. The government has called the original deadline impossible.

Related stories: South Africa: Western Cape strike results in protester death and call to order

South Africa vineyard talks stall as tensions rise

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