South African Diary: Attending a workers' meeting

10 May 2009 - 9:00am

In the late afternoon we headed towards a farm where a workers' meeting was being held. It was almost 7:30pm when we arrived at the unheated community hall, where about 30 workers had gathered. Union or community meetings are typically over lunch or in the evenings outside of work hours and must be authorised by the farm owner.


Sikhula Sonke staff attend these gatherings once a month. On this occasion the community wanted to talk to Wendy Pekeur, the union's General Secretary, about recurrent problems that they are facing that the farmer has been unwilling to resolve.

After an opening song, Wendy introduced us to the group. The meeting then began, and the workers spoke at length about the difficult conditions they face on a daily basis. One woman  explained to Wendy that she did not understand why the farm owner has all the workers remain in the field and eat their lunch in the orchard after it has been raining. Since they cannot work a wet field, why all the workers to return home?

Another worker asked why she and her colleagues had to pay for uniforms out of their own wages even though it had been agreed that the owner would provide them. This complaint was followed by another relating to the poor conditions of the workers' living quarters. One woman's roof was so leaky that she compared her living room to a swimming pool. While flooding is a big issue, other workers spoke of an overall lack of water. One person raised her concern about  communal toilets that lacked water.

When the community is provided with basic utilities, they often come at a great cost.  As one woman explained,  'we are paying more for electricity than people who live in town'. Each family  spends roughly 10% of its wages on electricity.

After listening to the worker's concerns, Wendy gave advice on how to deal with the owner on the issue of providing basic services and improving conditions on the farm and in their living quarters. Wendy also explained that she would write a letter to the owner in order to organise a meeting to discuss their problems directly with him.

Graciela Romero, Director of International Programmes, is keeping a diary of her trip to South Africa, where she is visiting Sikhula Sonke, an women's trade union and War on Want partner organisation.


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