This past weekend, the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions in the Eastern Cape experienced first-hand, the appalling working conditions of farm workers and dwellers. This happened during a visit of the Joint Ad-Hoc Committee consisting of Members of Parliament from the Portfolio Committees on Employment and Labour as well as Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform from Friday, 22 July 2022 to Sunday, 24 July 2022.
The mandate of the Ad-Hoc Committee was to assess the working and living conditions farm workers, labour tenants and their families face and explore solutions and interventions necessary to address them. COSATU welcomed the visit and was encouraged by the presence of senior officials from both departments at national and provincial levels. We appreciate their assertive role in giving clarity on complex issues and assisting to resolve some of the challenges on the spot. Holding such interactions between these two departments regularly beyond the visit of the Joint Ad-Hoc Parliamentary Committee would greatly benefit farm workers and dwellers.
Serious violation of farm workers and dwellers’ rights were identified during the visits. We were exposed to the violation of labour laws and inadequate housing. The inhabitable state of houses for the dwellers in some farms was an indication of sub-human treatment they are subjected to. There are instances where farm workers are paid less than the minimum wage. We appreciate the Department of Labour and Employment’s commitment to to follow up those cases and we shall hold them to their word.
An owner of Newlands, a citrus farm stated unashamedly that he and other farm owners around Patensie in Sarah Baartman District prefer to employ Zimbabwean nationals who in most cases, are undocumented. This is manly done to get cheap labour and to evade applying labour laws. This is a very concerning matter as it brews conflict between local citizens and other African nationals.
COSATU is encouraged by the membership recruitment in the farms and appreciates the growing footprint of the affiliates in different operations in the farming sector. The Federation will intensify recruitment programmes to unite the workers in the sector, defend workers’ rights and improve their conditions.
It is unacceptable that 28 years into democracy, farm workers and dwellers are subjected to such terrible conditions. COSATU demands that every stakeholder must play its part in ensuring that conditions of farm workers and dwellers change for the better. In the interim, our leadership in the province has approached Agri EC representatives to facilitate a meeting between the two parties to fast-track engagements in efforts to harmonise and stabilise the situation at the farms.
COSATU is prepared to strengthen its working relationship with national departments involved in the farming community, provincial and local governments in working towards addressing the plight of farm workers and dwellers.
Issued by COSATU Eastern Cape
Mkhawuleli Maleki: COSATU Provincial Secretary
Mobile: 082 339 5482