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South African farm workers to revive wine region strikes

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* Seeking minimum daily wage of $17.50 from $8

* Last action left two dead after wave of mine strikes

* Farm owners say power costs mean cannot afford higher
wages

By Wendell Roelf

CAPE TOWN, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Thousands of South African farm
workers will go on strike in the Western Cape wine region from
Wednesday, reviving labour action for higher wages in which two
workers were killed in clashes with police and vineyards were
damaged.

Africa's largest economy was crippled by waves of violent
strikes last year that started in the platinum industry and
spread to truckers and farm workers.

The farm workers, many of them black seasonal hires employed
to pick and pack fruit, suspended their strikes in December
after vineyards and warehouses were set on fire and at least two
workers died in clashes with police.

"We have not reached a deal because of the intransigence of
farmers," said union leader Nosey Pieterse, general secretary of
the Bawsi Agricultural Workers Union of South Africa.

"We have been met with naked racism and white arrogance."

Almost two decades after the end of apartheid, the
commercial farms are still largely white owned, with accusations
of racism and mistreatment of workers commonplace.

Workers, who want their minimum daily wage of 69 rand ($8)
increased to 150 rand ($17.50), have been negotiating directly
with farm owners on an individual farm-by-farm basis since
December's action was called off.

But farmers, who are already battling rising electricity and
fuel costs, say the demands are too high.

"There is no farm in South Africa that can afford 150 rand,"
said Carl Opperman of Agri-Western Cape, an industry body.

HARVEST SEASON

Farm workers are among the lowest paid in the country, and
often live in squalid conditions with no hot water or
electricity - yet their labour at this harvest time is vital for
producing wine that is increasingly popular around the world.

Unions are urging an international boycott of South African
agricultural products because they are "produced under slave
conditions", said Tony Ehrenreich of the powerful labour
federation Cosatu.

South Africa's global reputation was tarnished last year in
the wave of violent strikes, when police shot dead 34 striking
miners in a single day, the bloodiest security incident since
the end of apartheid in 1994.

The government warned against further labour violence.

"The government will not tolerate violent labour disputes
and calls on all parties to always strive to reach a common
ground," spokeswoman Phumla Williams said in a statement.

The government sets a three-year minimum wage for the
agricultural industry and is expected to announce a new minimum
early in April.

South Africa has been producing wine in the area around Cape
Town since the 1600s, following the arrival of European
settlers.

Following the end of apartheid South African wines are
increasingly popular outside the country and are regularly sold
in Britain, Japan and the United States.

According to statistics from the South African wine
industry, the country is forecast to export a total of 440.2
million litres of wine in 2016 from 379 million litres in 2012.

It contributed 2.2 percent to gross domestic product in
2008, with exports rising by 18.3 percent over the year from
December 2011 to November 2012.
($1 = 8.6047 South African rand)

(Editing by David Dolan and Alison Williams)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130107/south-african-farm-workers-revive-wine-region-strikes