Vavi joins Grabouw farm workers march

Unions to meet with Human Rights Commission and Oak Valley managers over housing issues

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Photo of Oak Valley workers\' protest
Oak Valley Estate workers are demanding a wage increase to R250 per day. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

About 70 Oak Valley Estate workers, supported by various unions affiliated to the United Front, marched through the streets of Grabouw on Friday morning.

Since 6 May, the workers have been protesting for a wage increase to R250 per day, an end to labour brokering, and the removal of single sex hostels.

Protesters have been blocking the N2 outside Grabouw intermittently for the past three weeks with clashes between police and protesters resulting in the arrests of several people. The protests have sparked divisions between Grabouw’s township residents because of the difficulties some have had getting to work and school with the national road blocked.

On 15 May, workers suspended the strike pending the outcome of negotiations between CSAAWU and Oak Valley. But talks deadlocked and workers downed tools yet again.

On Friday, curious residents and learners at schools along the way watched as marchers held up placards and sang on their way to the local police station to hand over a memorandum to Colonel Desiree Jansen.

The memo raised concerns with the conduct of the police when responding to protest action. It claimed that police interfered with a labour matter by threatening workers who were participating in the strike. It demanded an investigation into the police’s conduct.

The group then walked a further kilometre to the security gate at Oak Valley to hand a list of demands to manager Gerko Engelbrecht. The memo stated that United Front would be “imposing a boycott” of all the farm’s products should their demands not be met.

Farm worker Alina Qhu has been on strike for three weeks. She has worked at Oak Valley for eight years, but was only employed permanently four years ago. She earns R162 per day. She said her salary was not enough to cover her monthly expenses. “I have to pay R300 in rent, pay for food and clothes for myself and my nine-year-old son. It’s not enough,” she said.

Several union leaders also joined the march, including South African Federation of Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and Karel Swart of the Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU) who has been supporting the workers during negotiations with the farm.

The farm and police have been given seven days to respond.

Oak Valley and union leaders were meeting on Friday afternoon, so comment could not be sought from management in time for this report. Oak Valley’s views will be sought for our next article on the strike.

TOPICS:  Farming Labour

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