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Ceres strike: Fawu prunes wage demand

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The Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) has dropped its wage demand from 12.5 percent to 8 percent in a bid to end the four-week strike that has hit the Ceres region in the Western Cape.

The strike, which began last month, has put a halt to apple and pear exports to Europe and has aggravated fears that it could lead to violence, similar to that during the 2012 farmworkers’ strike in the province.

Fawu spokesman Meshack Ntechane said the union had received a mandate from its 1 200 striking members to review their wage demand, and was planning a march to the Ceres Food Growers offices and the Department of Labour today to back up their demands.

Ntechane said the union’s willingness to settle depended on the company responding to their revised demand.

“We are willing to put the strike behind us and start working on the exports,” Ntechane said.

“It has been a long way for both the workers and the employers and we must ensure that there is a speedy (resolution) of the strike.”

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ economic review said the total gross value of agricultural production during 2012/13 had increased by 10 percent to R180.36 billion compared with the previous year.

Losing millions

The Western Cape government said the value of agricultural production in the Ceres region at current prices was estimated at R1.353bn last year or 7.93 percent of the total value-added of the agricultural sector in the province.

The chairman of Ceres Fruit Growers, Pieter Graaff, said the region was losing millions in export revenue as a result of the strike.

“You cannot go to foreign markets and not be able to deliver on orders,” Graaff said.

“The market is going to lose confidence in our supply and the knock-on effects would be felt by the entire fruit exporting and the general agricultural industry.”

The strike resulted in workers preventing trucks from leaving or entering the region.

The police said yesterday that they had arrested almost 20 people for public violence and arson.

The police added that 16 people had been arrested for public violence and three for arson, as the protest escalated into large scale violence and intimidation.

Spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Andrè Traut said while the situation had calmed down, the police had made arrests after a packinghouse in the area was torched last week.

Economic viability

“The situation has been restored to normal in the area,” Traut said.

Hortgro, the national umbrella body that represents the deciduous fruit industry, condemned the planned marches, charging that they had undermined the economic viability of the fruit sector in particular.

Hortgro chairman Nicholas Dicey said they were concerned that the strike would affect the provincial economy and some rural towns that were dependent on the industry. “We acknowledge the right to strike and to march, but this must be done within the letter and spirit of legislation,” he said.

“Organisers must also be held accountable if such events end in chaos, violence, intimidation and destruction of property.

“The alleged bussing in of strikers and marchers, as well as setting fire to infrastructure and equipment in particular, is totally unacceptable and should be investigated to confirm who the perpetrators are.”

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