Grabouw farm workers suspend N2 highway protest

Children returned to school on Wednesday morning and the N2 highway near Sir Lowry's Pass was opened as Grabouw farmworkers suspended their protest action during negotiations with their employer, GroundUp reports.

"We have suspended the action," said Karel Swart of the Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU).

More than 60 farmworkers from Oak Valley Estate in Grabouw have been protesting since May 6 for their wages to be increased to R250 per day, an end to labour brokering and the removal of single sex hostels. The farmworkers are being supported by the union and some community members.

Swart said the protest action had been suspended because Oak Valley Estate had agreed "to come to the table". Those involved in the meeting include union representatives, leaders of the protesting farmworkers, Oak Valley Estate management and a Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) commissioner.

Christopher Rawbone-Viljoen, managing director of Oak Valley Estate, said in previous meetings the farm representatives suggested reviewing seasonal contracts and investigating whether workers were "eligible for permanency on the basis of rolling contracts". He said they were waiting for more information from the labour brokers.

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Rawbone-Viljoen said that the CSAAWU had not presented any proposals, only demands, and that the farm had tried on several occasions to reach a mediated settlement.

"In our view, given their demands, they are not interested in a mediated settlement," he said.

On Tuesday, protests caused a divide in the community as roads were closed and schools were disrupted. Some community members felt that they were being "held hostage".

Nine people were arrested on Monday, said Lieutenant Colonel André Traut.

"One for incitement to commit violence and eight for public violence," he said. Traut said that police would continue to monitor the situation.

Swart was one of those arrested but he was later released. He said if those arrested remained locked up, the protest might resume.

He also said he told the station commander "If you don't drop the charges there will be no peace".