GEORGE NEWS - Two vehicles were damaged and one worker hit by a rock during what was supposed to be a peaceful protest in Touwsranten on Monday.
The road in Touwsranten was blocked and tyres were set alight in the early morning hours. The public order police (Pops) were called to the scene where a group of about 80 women, armed with branches and stones, blocked the Hoekwil Road near Touwsranten from around 04:00 on Monday morning.
This followed after the trade union NCFAWU (National Certificated Fishing & Allied Workers Union) obtained permission for a peaceful strike from 06:00 to 18:00, starting on Monday, for an indefinite period.
The protest follows a wage dispute between union members and vegetable producer Peter Leppan, the owner of Mandalay Farm.
Leppan said the workers forfeited wages to the amount of R100 000 on Monday. He had to employ temporary staff on Tuesday as those who do not belong to the union are being victimised and intimidated by the strikers.
According to the rules set out in an agreement between the union members and a representative of Your Labour Problem Solver (YLPS), the picketing was supposed to take place on the Mandalay Manor Road crossing, on the Seven Passes Road, about 1,6km from the main gate of the employer's premises.
The rules state that the strikers conduct themselves in a peaceful manner and allow any person or vehicle access to and from the road.
Stoned and traumatised
However, when a nearby farmer, Ian Gerber, left his property at 04:20 on Monday morning to drop his daughter off at school, his Mercedes-Benz hit rocks lying on the Hoekwil Road near Touwsranten.
"The visibility was bad with the morning mist. My front tyres and rims are ruined and the car's chassis is badly hurt," said Gerber.
He said the car was surrounded by women hitting the car with sticks and branches. He had to reverse and take a detour to drop his traumatised daughter off at the bus pick-up point.
At roughly the same time Jake Crowther, from another farm, left to pick up workers in Touwsranten.
He describes the horror that confronted them when his bakkie, with workers on the back, was stoned by a rowdy crowd of women near the entrance of the township.
"We realised we have a problem when we neared Touwsranten, but the crowd let us through," he said. "However, when we exited Touwsranten they started throwing rocks at the bakkie. Luckily we had all the women inside the cabin. One worker on the back of the bakkie was hit by a stone in his ribcage. They were all traumatised when we reached our farm."
Crowther said it is very unfair that so many people unrelated to the wage dispute at Mandalay have to suffer as a result of the picketing.
39% increase demanded
According to Peter Leppan, owner of Mandalay Farm, the leader of the trade union, Clarence Mtyenele, came to them three weeks ago with a request for a 39% wage increase. "He also wanted a compulsory three-week bonus for each worker, irrelevant of performance and attendance," said Leppan.
"We have just under 500 workers at Leppan Farming [the trade name of the business]. Based on the fact that it's our export season, there would be no room for negotiation. The prices were set in October last year. Also, Clarence has made it absolutely clear that he does not do numbers, so doing a presentation would not have worked."
Leppan said he is extremely saddened by the event. "One of the biggest things that we have tried to do is to create employment and feed the people. The saddest thing is the children who are the innocent victims of this."
According to Mtyenele he has no knowledge of vehicles being stoned. He said he requested information from Leppan but hasn't received any yet.
Mtyenele believes a misunderstanding on the side of the police, whom he said was not aware that the strike was legal, might have led to a disruption on Monday. He said the union is open for negotiations, but the company has put nothing on the table.
"Only some of the workers - the ones they like - receive bonuses. There are no real criteria for their choice," said Mtyenele. "These people receive minimum wages and yet there are deductions when they want to go to the bathroom, because they have to clock out."
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