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Emily O’Ryan

Women on Farms, an organisation seeking equitable and non-exploitative working conditions on farms, exposed various contraventions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act by the Stellenbosch Wine Industry at a protest held outside the Wine Festival on Saturday, 24 February.

A host of wine-lovers gathered at the Stellenbosch Wine Festival to indulge in hundreds of wines from award-wining wine farms to small boutique wineries.

The quality of wine from Stellenbosch is widely known and publicised, however the exploitative and inequitable conditions in which farm workers produce the wine has gone mainly unheard.

Less than a stone-throw away from the festival, there are farms that have not met basic needs of their employees. A ticket to the Stellenbosch Wine Festival costs between R150 and R190, while a ‘premium experience’ ticket costs approximately R350. However, the average daily wage of a farm worker is R138.

“72% of seasonal female farm labourers do not have access to a toilet in the vineyard. This contravenes the Occupational Health and Safety Act”. Furthermore, “75% of seasonal female workers were not paid the legal minimum wage and 73% of female seasonal workers aren’t provided protective clothing despite being exposed to pesticides”, as taken from the pamphlets handed out by women on Farms at protest.

“If you work in the vineyards, there are no toilets; no privacy. It’s dangerous and humiliating. The men watch the women when they relieve themselves in the vineyards”, said a farm worker who preferred to remain anonymous.

“We are not blind to the transgressions. Basic stuff is being looked at in Stellenbosch… What De Doorns and Paarl do is their issue”, said Elmarie Rabe, Manager of the Stellenbosch Wine Routes.

“If those farms aren’t good for you, then you’ve got to move on and find something else. I know it’s almost impossible, so I don’t know quite what the solution is, but the process will never stop.”

“It’s not a process, it’s a basic human right – it’s legislative. Minimum wage per month is R3 001. Farm owners need to comply with the labour laws of the country. It is unacceptable that in 2018 we are still quibbling about labour laws,” said Colette Solomons and Carmen Louw, co-directors of the Women on Farms organization.

“Rabe should disabuse herself of the perception that Stellenbosch is utopian to the world. Once there is acknowledgement, then we can go on.”

According to Solomons and Louw, 70% percent of women at the protest were from Stellenbosch. Protesters from areas outside Stellenbosch also showed their solidarity by joining the march.

Women on Farms said they have held meetings and workshops about issues prevalent in Stellenbosch and still farms workers don’t get minimum wage.

Rabe further welcomed those with “issues to come to [them]” to address them. “Maybe next year we could have exhibitors with their success stories”, added Rabe.

The protest which occurred outside the wine festival served the purpose of raising public awareness, so that there can be consciousness of the basic labour rights violations that take place on farms.
“[We] want [wine-buyers] to ask the wine farms about practices on their farms… we are trying to bring knowledge conditions to the ordinary wine-buyer”, said Solomons and Louw.

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