ECARP’s work with farm workers and dwellers is expanding into new geographical areas. In 2013 ECARP held capacity building sessions with advice offices from around the Eastern Cape including Patensie. In June 2014 ECARP visited Patensie to do a contextual scan of the area and conduct research on the implementation of the Sectoral Determination for farm workers. From these engagements there was interest in the work that ECARP is doing and there was a need to explore the possibilities for co-operation and how ECARP and its established collectives could help new areas to mobilise and empower farm workers and dwellers to organise themselves and champion the struggle for better living and working conditions in the area.
On 18-19 April 2015 ECARP held a session with farm workers and dwellers from Patensie area. The objectives of the meeting were to get farm workers and dwellers from the established areas to share with farm workers and dwellers from Patensie their experiences of working as collectives at farm, area and Phakamani Siyephambili levels. The farm workers and dwellers from the established areas also took the time to share with their counterparts in Patensie about their experiences, challenges and achievements attained from working through grassroots collectives. They took time to discuss about the possibilities for organising workers in the Patensie area using the ECARP model of grassroots collectives as well as explored the possibility of setting up a multi-stakeholder dialogue forum in the Patensie area in the future.
Two ECARP facilitators Khayalethu Sodladla and Sonto Shelle along with comrades from the established areas went into Patensie. The farm workers and dwellers in Patensie showed interest in the farm committee program and wanted to learn from people who have travelled the same road before them. The farm workers and dwellers in the Patensie area rely mainly on advice offices for assistance with their labour and tenure grievances. The advice offices do their best but they have limited resources. Therefore, they all recognised the need to encourage agency and the empowerment of the people so that they can organise themselves and take their struggles forward.
Many of the farm worker grievances do not get addressed because they do not have a lot of options for a remedy. Many of the workers do not meet and discuss about issues that confront them on the farms and packhouses. The main reason is that they fear victimization by the employers and managers. One worker said, “The workers are concerned that if they are to start organising other workers on this area, they will be seen as trouble makers and be victimised by the farmers and lose their jobs.”
Trade unions have not been effective in dealing with issues affecting farm workers in the Patensie area (nor elsewhere for that matter). One worker from the area sums it up well when he says, “The (trade) unions are not very useful to the workers, and it will then be nice if we can gain information on setting up farm committees.” Another farm worker said, “No more unions because they do not work for us.” Although workers say that this is despite the point that they are made to join a particular trade union when they accept an offer for employment.
Issues facing workers in the Patensie area include but are not limited to:
- Terrible living conditions
- Evictions from farms
- Bullying by supervisors
- Sexual harassment by supervisors
- Health and safety
- Contraventions of the Sectoral Determination 13 legislation
The farm committee program which ECARP supports encourages the active participation of men, women, young, old, employed, unemployed, able-bodied and disabled without prejudice. The established areas encouraged the farm workers and dwellers from Patensie. One farm worker from the established areas said, “We used to have the similar problems mentioned above, but with us we realised that it will be important that we should form the farm committees, bringing together the women, men and the youth on the farms.”
The session was used to explore the possibilities for working together and establishing grassroots formations which would be suited to the conditions that prevail in the area. As a way-forward it was decided that there should be a follow-up meeting on 25 – 26 July 2015 to explore and plan for the type of structure for the Patensie area.