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‘Structural racism’ at heart of winery wage strike at Robertson (South Africa)

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Robertson Winery bosses and workers have reached a salary negotiation deadlock, with the workers’ union calling on the public not to “drink blood wine”.

Karel Swart, spokesman for the Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU), leading the strike, said yesterday that they were still pushing for a minimum salary increase to R8n500.

He said many of the 227 workers on strike earned R2 900 a month at the winery, which represents 30 farms in Robertson and employs 303 people.

Workers are now entering their 12th week of the strike that seeks to also address working conditions. Some workers bared their grievances at a public screening of the documentary film Bitter Grapes at the District Six Museum Homecoming Centre yesterday. The Danish-produced film exposes working conditions at the winery.

The winery told Weekend Argus the union and its affiliated workers were “not acting in good faith”.

Both parties worked with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) to reach a resolution but the latter has since exited the talks which were not moving forward.

Swart said: “The CCMA pulled out and said there’s no solution. There’s no trust between the workers and the employer. We are dealing with structural racism. They think they have the right to do what they want with workers.

“The strike is still on. It will go on until one party collapses. We want people to know they should not drink Robertson’s blood wine.”

Robertson farmworker Simon Jacobs was at the film screening of Bitter Grapes in Cape Town. He supports the strike for better wages.

Farmworker Simon Jacobs, employed at Robertson farm which supplies the winery with grapes, said the strike was necessary, considering the working and living conditions of workers. He said he earned R640 a week for working 45 hours. “Farm bosses gain a lot. They earn millions. We gain nothing,” said Jacobs.

“I’ve worked for 22 years on a farm. I don’t own a house. I live on a farm. I’m 57 years old and I won’t get anything when I retire. It’s very tough to be a farmworker. I’ve seen how abusive white farmers can be.”

Robertson Winery worker Emile Maseko said he earned R3 400 a month before tax deductions.

“It’s slave wages. I can’t even feed myself with that money. There are people who have worked at the winery for many years and still earn that amount,” said Maseko.

“Older people still have the idea of the baas, that they can’t say anything, so they are afraid to speak.”

He added: “Some people are still working. They are not part of the union. They’re boere boeties who work with the white bosses against other workers.

“They come and talk to us and then tell the bosses about our plans so they can get money. Most of them are managers.”

Another winery worker, Marshelene Berdien, said she had earned R2 900 when she started her job in 2009. She now earns R3 400. “I’m striking for a better salary and working conditions,” she said.

“My brother has been a mechanic for the winery for 13 years. He gets paid R8 000. When a white mechanic came to work there, he got paid R17 000.

“My brother had to teach him how to do the job. White mechanics never work late or night shift. It’s only the three coloured mechanics who have to work late.”

While the workers are on strike and not earning a salary, the Claremont Main Road Mosque has helped them with food and other basic needs.

Reinette Jordaan, human resources manager at Robertson Winery, said they were willing to pay workers an extra R400 a month.

“This offer was rejected (by workers) outright,” she said.

View online : Sunday Independent sur iol

1 Message

  • I wanted to comment that Robertson Winery Cab is a wonderful red which we enjoy in Mt Vernon, Washington State, US. We are lucky to get it here maybe once every couple years and then its supply is gone. Sorry to hear Robertson Winery is suffering labor issues but we have them here too. Agriculture labor is a hard road to a comfortable quality of life. I was raised in that sector as a child however my parents had the right notion that an education was key to pulling our britches out of the mud and into professions that sustain reasonable salaries and wages. Not only did my parents clue their children into putting education at the epicenter, but they also were able to save pennies that turned to dollars over the years. Frugality and turning away from addictions such as tobacco or alcohol have allowed the dream of providing 3 meals a day and a roof over our head a reality. As an adult now, I earn $100,000 or so a year, have 20 acres of forest and creeks, wildlife, reliable transportation and a desire to see Robertson as a potential home. I am Mexican but am set apart from the farm scene because of my education; people don’t construe me as lacking intellectually. But Mexicans who’ve come to this country and refuse to put their best foot forward, end up taking two steps backwards and not allowing their children the opportunity or exposure to higher education, or even learning the English language. Striking the heart of a community’s main income not only hurts the local businesses but will sustain painful economic woes upon the very people that are pushing the strike. An employer or a business entity in the wine industry usually reserve finances for the stretch of unpredicability be it drought or low crop yields, losses, market fluctuations or even equipment repairs, labor issues. The farmers or the wine makers wouldn’t be solvent if they didnt save wisely or invest diligently. There are risks to all facets of life. They took the business risks for frutation. And so if Labor believes they can come ahead of the game by striking, then take that risk. It can hurt and maybe it can help in the long run.

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