On the last day of women’s month, more than 200 women farmworkers marched from Keizergracht Street in Cape Town to the provincial legislature and then to the Department of Labour. The protest was organised by the Women on Farms Project (WFP), a non-governmental organisation that promotes the rights of women who work in commercial agriculture in the Western and Northern Cape.
The march followed a presentation by the group earlier that morning at Community House in Salt River, where Colette Solomon, director of WFP, presented recent research on violations of labour law on commercial farms.
The study used information from 343 questionnaires completed by women farmworkers. It found that 75% of seasonal workers in the sample were not paid the minimum wage. Farmworkers also reported health and sanitation concerns. The study concluded that “farmers are systematically violating laws that were introduced to protect and advance the rights of farmworkers”.
Women participating in the protest work on commercial farms in Western Cape towns, including Ceres, De Doorns, Stellenbosch, Rawsonville, Paarl, Klapmuts, Robertson, and Wolseley. Two trade unions, Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU) and Agricultural Workers’ Empowerment Trade Union Council (AWETUC), participated in the presentation at Community House and the march through Cape Town and spoke outside of the provincial legislature and the Department of Labour during the march.
In a memorandum, women farmworkers called on the Western Cape Department of Agriculture to guarantee that farmers comply with labour laws and support the development of a system that recognises and punishes farmers who violate them. They also want the department to reform the farm inspection process, respond to rights violations reported by workers faster, and prosecute farmers who violate labour laws.
Patricia Zuma, a transgender farmworker, said she faces threats of physical assault because of her gender identity. Zuma says that her employer does nothing to protect her. Solomon believes that real change will only be achieved with what she calls “radical agrarian transformation”.
This article first appeared on and was published by www.GroundUp.org.za, on 4 September 2017.