Working on farms in W Cape disgraceful, says Human Rights Watch

By Rebecca Davis 23 August 2011

The title of Human Rights Watch's report on labour conditions on Western Cape farms says it all: “Ripe With Abuse”. The rights watchdog’s research reveals that the lives of farmworkers in the province are "dismal and dangerous". By REBECCA DAVIS.

Human Rights Watch released its 96-page report in Cape Town on Tuesday morning. It contains the findings of 260 interviews with farmworkers, farm owners, civil society representatives, government officials and unionists. And the picture it paints of conditions for workers on farms in Western Cape is shameful.

HRW presents a bleak litany of rights violations. Here’s a sample to depress you: Many workers are not given access to water or toilets, being told to relieve themselves in the fields. They receive some of the lowest wages of any sector in the country, and on certain farms remnants of the “dop” system linger on. Often they are not allowed to take any sick leave without a doctor’s note (and this is illegal, by the way). The housing they are given is, to say the least, inadequate. HRW encountered workers living in Wendy houses, metal shipping containers, and in one instance, an old toilet. They are subject to eviction without notice, often from farms where they have spent their entire lives. And there’s more.

This isn’t the case on all Western Cape farms, they stress, but it applies to the majority of them. Now HRW is calling for the government to enforce labour law on the farms and monitor conditions for workers more regularly and systematically.

The government has yet to respond, but they’ll have to: HRW is an organisation with serious international clout. Even if confined to a small region of the country, it doesn’t look good for South Africa as whole to have Petrus Brink, chairman of the Citrusdal Farmworkers Association, telling journalists on Tuesday that “apartheid is still alive on the farm”. DM

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Photo: Reuters.


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