Target: Tina Joemat-Peterson, South African Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries
Goal: Establish higher minimum wage and better working condition for farm workers
South Africa has become known for its agricultural industry, especially when it comes to growing grapes. South African wine has become extremely well regarded in the last few years, garnering global praise and popularity, and providing a major boon to the nation’s economy. South Africa’s fruit and wine sector is now valued at over 1.3 billion U.S. dollars. However, the bountiful grape harvests have come at a price; the rights of the men and women who toil their lives away on the sprawling grape farms are being systematically and consistently trampled.
Recently, farm workers have been sporadically going on strike, protesting grueling conditions, and most of all, extremely low pay. Workers are currently paid wages that are distressingly low; the minimum wage is 69 rand (less than $8 U.S.). There is almost zero upward mobility, and chances for raises are few and far between and cannot be guaranteed in any way. Workers are often essentially tied to the land they work on, as their employers own their homes and the land they are built on. They fear that any disobedience on their part, any clamoring for higher wages, or unrest could leave them homeless and jobless; a problem that is compounded by the fact that the farm workers are often untrained and illiterate. Additionally, labor laws and workers-rights policies are normally poorly enforced in the country.
Workers are now demanding a minimum wage of 150 rand (just under $18 U.S.) to make up for the subpar working conditions. Their demands have resulted in strikes that have put considerable pressure on the South African government and have resulted in violence, including the deaths of three protestors at the hands of police forces. Workers, labor unions, and activists have begun calling for a boycott of South African wine and agricultural products, stating that the purchase of them now is as irresponsible as it was during apartheid.
It is high time that South African farm workers were given a fair share, given the rights to unionize and earn fair wages — the right to be treated as the important part of the economic machine that they are. Until these rights are granted to the workers, people across the world should join in the boycott of South African wine. Lend your voice to that of the workers and aid the fight for workers rights in South Africa.
Dear Minister Joemat-Peterson,
Over the last several years your nation has developed a reputation for a lush agricultural industry and world-class wine production. South African wines are exported across the globe and some of them command exceptionally high prices. The popularity of South Africa’s wine has helped to create an industry that is valued at well over a billion U.S. dollars.
Yet these profits have come at a high price. The rights and human dignity of the South Africa’s farm laborers have been trampled into the dirt. They are paid wages that they can barely live on: compensation far below what should be commensurate for such backbreaking work. The workers are often uneducated and bound to the land they work on, too scared of eviction and homelessness to try and speak up for their rights.
Enough is enough, Madam Minister. Already workers have begun to go on strike and unfortunately violence has ensued, resulting in several deaths. All these people want is a fair wage and respectable working conditions. These are basic human rights. If they are not soon acknowledged, South Africa may well be facing a boycott of its agricultural exports. You and your government should consider your options, Minister. Once you do you will see that rethinking the way that farm workers are treated is not just the best way, it is the only way.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: timparkinson via flickr