News / Africa

    Strike Victory Backfires for S. African Farm Workers

    Protesters flee as police open fire during a farm workers strike at De Doorns, on the N1 highway linking Cape Town and Johannesburg, January 9, 2013.
    Protesters flee as police open fire during a farm workers strike at De Doorns, on the N1 highway linking Cape Town and Johannesburg, January 9, 2013.
    After weeks of strikes and violent confrontations with authorities earlier this year, farmworkers in South Africa's Cape Town region won a partial victory. In February, the government agreed to increase their minimum wage by 52 percent. But this victory may be a curse in disguise as many farmers subsequently reduced the workers’ benefits and laid them off, saying they could not afford to pay the higher wage. 

    Pointing at a leaking roof and broken windows, Patrick Blu is eager to show the poor condition of his house.  He says he needs a higher living wage and he believes him and his fellow farm workers were justified in striking.

    Victory backfires

    But it has not turned out as planned.  The Labor Ministry did agree to increase the minimum wage from 69 rand to 105 rand - or about $4 more a day. It went in effect on March 1.

    In theory, it was a victory. But in reality, Blu says, he is in worse financial straights than before the strike.

    "You see, that's my electricity bill,” said Blu. “Before, it was free, now they deduct it from our salary.” He adds the same goes with the housing rent, which was also free before.

    Like Blu's boss, many commercial farmers in the Cape Town region say they cannot afford the new higher wage. So instead, they cut some customary benefits like free housing and power on the farm for the workers.

    For farmer Allen Harris, the higher wage is also a curse for the majority of unskilled farm hands who are being let go as a result.

    "The situation was that farming was a sheltered position for people that were less educated and less skilled," said Harris. "Now we have to maximize skills. We have to maximize production. The poorer workers - physically and mentally the weaker workers - have now been shifted out."

    Political backdrop

    The agricultural trade association - AgriSA - argues the strike was politically-driven and the farming sector is suffering because of a political battle between the ruling ANC and the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance.

    The Western Cape region is the only province in South Africa ruled by the DA.

    Carl Opperman, AgriSA’s Western Cape chairman, says the strikes were pushed there by ANC officials to destabilize the DA.

    Opperman argues the national wage increase is not a solution to empower farm workers or reduce poverty. Rather, he says, the government should focus on helping the farms to be more productive by protecting them against international competition.

    "The South African farmer is the only framer basically in the world that has a 100 percent free market economy," he said. "We don't get any support from our government. We have got to fight our way in a world market and in our own country. We will need support, we don't need financial support, we need policy support. We need protectionism, we can justify it, not like at the moment where it is a free fall.”

    The commercial farmers’ trade union, TAU SA, says that more than 1,500 workers were laid-off in the weeks following the wage increase, in Limpopo Province alone. Whereas in the Western Cape Province, many farmers say they will not be able to hire casual farmer workers again for the winter harvest season just weeks away.

    You May Like

    Russian-Backed Offensive in Syria Pushes War to Tipping Point

    As threat to Aleppo and rebel forces grows, US plan to negotiate becomes less and less appealing for Syrian government, says one military analyst

    IS Runs Timber Smuggling Business in Afghanistan, Officials Say

    Government turning blind eye to smuggling, according to tribal leaders; Afghanistan's forest cover dropped by 50 percent in three decades, experts say

    Video White House Seeks $1.8 Billion to Combat Zika

    Obama administration says funding would 'support essential strategies to combat the virus' such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs, accelerating vaccine research

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.