The Congress of South African Trade Unions is deeply angered and strongly condemns the abuse of farm workers by farmers over their participation in the elections. The recent evictions of farmworkers from Schikfontein Farm in Heidelberg, Gauteng for voting for the ANC is criminal. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident because many farmworkers have been reporting incidents of victimisation and intimidation by their employers over the duration of May Day and Elections period.
This Schikfontein story is a reminder that there is still modern day slavery thriving on our farms. Not only do workers experience, extreme exploitation, they also suffer from physical and psychological abuse in the workplace. Their precarious working and living conditions can be equated to modern-day slavery, a step above the grave.
COSATU has been lamenting about the reprehensible treatment of South African farm workers for a long time with no discernible action from an organization like the Human Right Commission, SAPS or the Department of Labour.
Farm workers have been let down badly by the system. Law enforcement agencies, government departments and our democratic institutions like the Human Rights Commission have failed to adequately investigate discrimination, labour and human rights violations faced by farm workers. The government inspectors and some police officers are colluding with the farmers against these farm workers.
Many of these workers are forced to exceed the maximum working hours permitted by law. They do not receive the required overtime pay or time off, including overtime provisions.
Most of them do not enjoy their rights to paid sick, family and annual leave. They are mostly not included under the UIF, due to the non-payment of UIF fees by the employers, and also do not enjoy full maternity leave benefits and rights.
They are dismissed arbitrarily without the employers following proper disciplinary procedures as set out in our labour laws. These workers are evicted with no regard to legal due processes. They are not given insufficient time notification or given alternative housing.
After being evicted they are not allowed to visit the graves of family members and friends on other farms. Their graves are desecrated or destroyed and their livestock confiscated by farmers during labour relations disputes or evictions.
COSATU wants the laws governing labour inspectors to be strengthened and they need to be empowered to issue fines, investigate and haul exploitative employers to court. The exploitation that is taking place in the farming sector is mostly motivated by racism and the sooner the ANC government implements the policy of expropriation without compensation the better. Farmworkers should be given priority when it comes to land reform because they are the most vulnerable of South African workers.
The federation is encouraging all workers who are being victimised, especially for participating in May Day celebrations and National General Elections to report to COSATU Offices and those of our affiliated trade unions.
Issued by COSATU
Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson)
Tel: 011 339 4911
Fax: 011 339 5080
Cell: 060 975 6794
Cde Solly Phetoe
COSATU Deputy General Secretary