Workers at Oak Valley Farm have been on strike since Monday. With support from the nearby Grabouw community, they aim to lead a shutdown of the town.
Farmworkers in Grabouw led by the Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union are on strike demanding better working and living conditions. About 80 workers who are members of CSAAWU at Oak Valley farm in Elgin Valley near Grabouw have been on strike since Monday this week.
Oak Valley is a mixed farm, producing red meat, fruit, wine and flowers. It supplies flowers to high end supermarkets like Woolworths. The farm has a restaurant and attracts tourists with activities like mountain biking.
The workers are demanding a R250 daily wage, an end to labour brokering and that the hostels on the farm be converted into family units. According to CSAAWU’s national organising secretary, Karel Swart, the workers are currently earning R162 a day. “The R250 demand is based on the workers’ living standard. The workers said they can look after their needs and those of their families if they can earn that amount,” said Swart. “We are also asking the employer to do away with the apartheid hostels that are dominated by African men,” he said.
The workers say that after provident fund and UIF (Unemployed Insurance Fund) as well as union subscription deductions, they take home much less than R162 for a day’s work. They told Elitsha that they start work at 07:30 and knock off at 17:15.
Funeka Zibi started as a casual worker in 2007 and was made permanent only in 2015. Zibi works in the floristry section of the farm where she and her 11 colleagues have “only a 30-minute lunch break. With the R162 a day, I have to take care of my child and my brother and his wife,” said the 41-year-old. According to Zibi, they have to plant a flower bed of 48 crates. “Around the time I started to work at Oak Valley, the moving of crates and putting up of nets was considered men’s job but that work is done by women now.”
36-year-old Zomzi Nqeketho who started to work in 2005 says that she has seen everything and how the change in farm management affected them. “The current farm manager is rude and arrogant and does not want to listen to the workers,” she said.
Magidi Nofuma stays in the men’s hostel on the farm. He works at the restaurant as a cook. “I started to work for Oak Valley in 2000. I’m married and my wife stays in Grabouw. I share a room with 3 other men. We have bunk beds. There is no privacy,” he said. According to Nofuma, it is only African men on the farm who are subjected to those conditions. “The Coloured workers stay with their wives and girlfriends; it’s only us who are made to live like this,” he said. Nofuma claims that there used to be 160 men staying in the hostels but after they participated in last year’s May Day celebrations, the farm management started to evict them. “Right now there is only 60 of us staying at the hostels. Most people were retrenched,” he said.
According to Nkosiyaphathwa Magwebu, a hostel resident, some of the workers who were retrenched were still casuals despite having up to 20 years of service at the farm. “They only left with their bags and there was nothing to show for all the years that they dedicated to the farm owner,” he said.
Meeting between SAFTU and employer
According to Nyaniso Siyama from the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU, to which CSAAWU is affiliated), he met with the farm’s labour relations officer to find out what the problem are. “I was mandated by the provincial office bearers to meet with the employer to find out why the workers are on strike and why they can’t give what the workers are demanding,” he explained. He met with Gertco Engelbrecht from Oak Valley who reported that the company is engaging all spheres of government to make sure that the workers can access a housing subsidy which would go towards the building of houses for the workers.
Siyama, who is SAFTU’s deputy chairperson in the Western Cape, told the workers that Engelbrecht said that the workers stay in the hostel for free as they are not paying for water and electricity. On the demand for a salary increase, Siyama said that he was told that workers get annual salaries in July and that the employer will only enter wage negotiations in June. Siyama told the workers that Engelbrecht presented him with contracts that have a start date but do not have an end date, something he said the union should take up.
The workers said they will be engaging the wider community of Grabouw to take part in a shutdown later this week.