The Transvaalse Landbou Unie (TLU SA) on Monday released an alert, saying farmers should take “necessary precautions” against trespassers who enter their farms to create unrest.
The “trespassers” in question is the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), specifically its newly established labour desk.
The EFF’s labour desk, however, has disputed the claims of intimidation, saying they only show up unless absolutely necessary.
TLU SA north regional manager Drickus Botha said in the statement that EFF labour desk members and people posing as labour inspectors were gaining access to farms and farmworkers.
Botha told The Citizen that EFF members without their signature red regalia were demanding “certain things from farmers which can’t be given to them”.
Botha said EFF members descend on farms to intimidate farmers after their workers complain to the party. He said when demands could not be met, members threatened to return, and to do so with a crowd of people, who proceeded to park in front of farm gates and hand over a memorandum with their demands.
Botha said the union was aware of such instances in Groblersdal, Tolwe and Naboomspruit, where they said people were attacked, and workers fired.
“The EFF misleads workers to such an extent; they don’t even take real labour issues to the CCMA or appropriate departments. The workers only listen to the EFF,” Botha said.
The demands, Botha continued, were “strange”, such as requests for all workers to register with the Unemployment Insurance Fund when they already have.
He said it was becoming increasingly regular for workers to threaten action from the EFF to their bosses.
But agriculture and politics do not mix, Botha emphasised, as he suspected this was part of the EFF’s increased efforts to increase their electoral support in Limpopo.
These attempts, however, come at a cost, he said, with more job losses being incurred on farms. Farmers, he said, had reached the end of their tether, and were closing up shop.
“The EFF are essentially creating more job losses than fighting for the worker, who lose their jobs when farms shut down.”
But head of the EFF’s labour desk, Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi, had a different take on TLU SA’s allegations.
“These allegations are nothing to worry about. We launched the labour desk in October, and are going all out to defend workers submitting their grievances to us.”
She explained that protocol was first writing to or calling a farmer being accused of mistreating workers, to ask for a meeting.
“We don’t just show up. If they resist, we give them a visit, but we don’t threaten people.”
When there is resistance, a march is imminent, she continued.
She referenced once example of a KwaZulu-Natal farmer being accused of underpaying his workers.
“We called him, and I said to him there is this issue, but he denied it. He invited us to engage with him.”
Marches arranged by the party in the case of labour disputes are done “purposefully”, Mkhaliphi said, complete with a list of demands, a right of reply, and hopefully, a resolution in the form of a peaceful discussion.
She said many workers felt unprotected, adding that this would not happen if there was no “vacuum” in labour unions.
“This thing of fighting for workers is huge. All of us are needed to fight for them.”
Mkhaliphi said she is available to discuss labour matters 24 hours a day, and welcomes conversations to further the rights of workers.