SAFTU reports Grabouw farm to Human Rights Commission

SAHRC's Legal Service Officer, Nandi Diko, explaining the complaint process to SAFTU affiliate leadership with Karel Swart. Photo by Mzi Velapi

The SA Human Rights Commission will be conducting an inspection of Oak Valley Estate after SAFTU filed a complaint against the farm.

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) lodged a complaint against Oak Valley Estate with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) as a way of intensifying the pressure on the farm owners in the midst of a strike by workers. Led by the Commercial, Stevedoring, Agriculture & Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU), the farmworkers at the Grabouw farm have been on strike for more than two weeks. They are demanding an increase in their basic wage from R162 to R250 per day. The workers also want labour brokers to be abolished and that the single-sex hostels be converted into family units.

The trade union federation lodged complaints of racial and gender discrimination and infringement of the workers’ dignity. SAFTU’s provincial secretary, Andre Adam, said that the complaints are based on the fact that it is only African males who stay at the hostels. “The Coloured workers stay in houses with their families,” he said. That the hostels are single-sex amounts to gender discrimination, he argued, and their living conditions infringe on their human dignity.

“The issue of putting people in single-sex hostels is based on the apartheid practice of getting Black African migrant labourers from around the country and make them stay in poor conditions in the hostels. Then add labour brokers who take the money that is supposed to be for the workers. This is a vicious cycle with its roots in apartheid,” said Adams.

Speaking to the leadership of SAFTU affiliates, SAHRC Commissioner Chris Nissen said that he would be meeting with the farm management on Wednesday to hear their side of the story and to also do an inspection. The trade union federation proposed that some strike leaders and members of the community accompany the commissioner. The commissioner refused the proposal: “Our role is to listen to all those that are affected and I will speak to them about the complaints you have raised,” said Nissen.

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The union said that it would also be seeking a meeting with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) to address the picketing rules for the farmworkers strike. According to the trade union federation, the CCMA has “imposed picketing rules on CSAAWU that requires workers to picket more than a kilometre away from the employers’ premises.”

The union also intends to “target the clients of Oak Valley, such as Woolworths, Spar and Checkers, to call them to distance themselves from Oak Valley.” According to Andre Adams, the retail companies buy flowers from Oak Valley.

Interdicts of workers, CSAAWU leader and community

According to CSAAWU’s national organising secretary, Karel Swart, the union and the community has been interdicted from blocking the N2. This comes after a solidarity protest by the community saw the closure of the N2 near Grabouw which ended with the protestors clashing with police. Swart said that the interdict was granted based on a claim that a building was burned down on Sunday evening by the protestors.

“I also have been mentioned and that I’m liable for the damages to the road and they say that I incited violence. We will be challenging that in court,” said Swart who is one of the nine people who were arrested for the protest.

There is a protest planned for Friday to show solidarity with the striking workers.

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