R150 demand too low: religious leader

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By Jenna Etheridge

Paarl - Farmworkers' demands for a daily wage of R150 are too low for survival, the labour department heard on Tuesday.

“We are sick and tired of the nonsense of this government. R150 a day is total peanut-butter-and-jelly money,” Boland religious leader Marthinus Gouws said at a public hearing in Paarl.

“We want President Jacob Zuma and Minister Mildred Oliphant to hear what we say. R150 is not enough,” he said, to resounding cheers and applause in the packed Huguenot Hall.

Western Cape farmworkers gathered on Tuesday evening to voice their opinions on the review of the sector's minimum wage.

Members of the Building and Allied Workers' Union of SA and Sikhule Sonke were in attendance.

Many farmworkers told the department's acting director of labour standards, Titus Mtsweni, that their daily wage of between R69 and R80 was not enough to cover basic costs.

One woman said she struggled to put food on the table and pay creche fees for her children.

Quite a few workers said they still lived under apartheid-like conditions, working for hours on end without a break to eat.

Mtsweni said the department was hosting an extra week of hearings in the province to help him compile a report for the employment conditions commission.

He would make sure these recommendations were in the report. Gouws questioned why the proceedings were not being recorded electronically.

“How can you come to this hearing and... There is no recording. Only the SABC people are recording here,” Gouws asked Mtsweni.

“This labour department can't take people for granted. Don't use people on the farms as slaves.”

Mtsweni tried to calm the crowd, saying he was writing everything down.

“South Africa is a very nice country, there is a democracy here,” he said to the heckling group.

“If you feel the minister did not take everything into consideration, you can take the minister to court.”

The first hearing took place in Grabouw on Monday night. Further hearings were scheduled for towns including De Doorns, Robertson, Oudtshoorn, and Vredendal, with venues yet to be finalised.

The strike, by seasonal workers to have their minimum R69 daily wage increased to R150, resumed on Wednesday. It began on August 27 last year and was called off on December 4. - Sapa

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