Give Farm Workers a Real Voice

The most surprising thing about the South African winelands’ recent summer of discontent is the lack of proactive response from industry bodies in terms of creating or at least attempting to create an inclusive structure where farmworkers are represented at official levels. What happened to the grabbing of initiative and heading for the high ground?

Instead the situation remains tense and frustrating, and will become more so once the new minimum wage for farm workers kicks in on 1 March.

This can be averted, as the entire situation could have been if there had been representation from farm workers around official boardroom tables. Instead the shady likes of Messrs Pieterse and Ehrenreich have been allowed to present their case as union leaders with an interest in the rights of wine farm workers when this is, in fact, highly questionable. Nosey is nothing more than a former union lightweight in uniform wishing to resurrect his status with a now estranged audience, while Ehrenreich is a failed politician dancing to the strings of the national ANC who keep asking how the Western Cape, where the wine industry is based, has gotten so far out of the Government’s sphere of influence. And what are Tony and the other Cape ANC activists going to do about it?

Surely the time must be right for the wine industry’s real labour leaders to step forward. Not those with political agendas or inflamed egos, but the sons and daughters of the vineyards’ soils who truly wish to co-operate with the formal wine industry structures.

However, although the industry needs these people to step forward, the onus is on the industry itself to allow them representation at formal level. And with the disparate state of authoritative wine bodies, this is a challenge in itself.

The first body that needs to activate labour representation is Vinpro, the industry body that stemmed from the KWV. Vinpro is doing a fine job in vineyard consultation and other industry services, but seeing as it cannot and was never able to avoid the political tremors, it simply has to engage labour.

Oddly, most wine farmers will tell you that labour must be harnassed and that their futures are entwined with those of their black farm workers and managers. So it truly is astounding that labour has not been made part of Vinpro, especially seeing that if there is one organisation that knows or purports to know the inside of the agricultural side of the industry, it is Vinpro.

And what about Wosa? Through the overcooked political ambitions of its CEO Su Birch, Wosa has gone out of its way to curry favour with an array of political figures and to play footsy-footsy in the political arena, something most of the wine industry can’t remember giving Wosa the mandate to do – its disastrous affair with Wieta and its motley members being a case in point.

It is therefore only right that Wosa involve labour representatives on its board, not only to promote an image of inclusivity but to give that organisation an idea of what is actually happening in the daily lives of farmworkers, something Wosa sure as hell has no clue of but is through Birch eager to make disparaging comments lambasting their employers who in many instances are also Wosa-funders.

The industry has done a good job at developing skills among farm workers. There is the prot+¬g+¬ programme driven by the Winemakers Guild. Elsenburg’s SKOP training schedules. The Western Cape-Burgundy Exchange Programme and many more which have given farm workers the opportunity of improving their own well-being and that of their communities through up-liftment.

It is now time to move to the next level and to give representatives genuine representatives from the wine industry’s labour forums the opportunity to contribute to the wine industry through inclusive channels.

There is no other way. ?+¦-+?+¡

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