South African farmworkers get Norwegian award

By: Peter Kenworthy

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The Commercial Stevedoring and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU) have won the Norwegian Artur Svenssons 2017 international award, for fighting poor conditions in South African wineries.

The award, that includes a 740.000 rand prize, is awarded by Norwegian trade union confederation Industri Energi, who organizes workers in the Norwegian oil-, gas- and land-based industries. The confederation has 60.000 members.

Slave-like conditions
According to leader of Industri Energi and head of the award jury, Leif Sande, the award was given to CSAAWU because of their fight for farm worker rights.

“The systematic violations of basic rights on South African wineries are so comprehensive that conditions can be described as slave-like. CSAAWU is doing a marvelous job in organizing workers, despite their scarce resources,” Sande says.

According to CSAAWU’s Secretary General, Trevor Christians, the award is much appreciated.

“The international recognition and prize money will put CSAAWU in a much better position to increase our outreach to more farmworkers, to assist them to defend and advance their rights as workers,” Christians said in a statement.

Investigative journalism works
The Norwegians were alerted to CSAAWU’s struggle by seeing “Bitter Grapes,” a documentary about the conditions on South African wineries made by Danish journalist Tom Heinemann, on Norwegian television.

“Bitter Grapes” portrayed conditions of extremely poor work- and accommodation conditions on several South African wineries, as well as salaries below the minimum wage.

Heinemann says he is pleased that his film is being used to positive effect.

“The Norwegian wine importer Vinmonopolet is presently on a lengthy inspection tour of South Africa and the authorities have tightened the control of the wineries significantly. That CSAAWU have now been presented with an award from their Norwegian colleagues shows that even in a world where fake news and click-bate is on the rise, and the credibility of journalists is under pressure, ‘old-school’ investigative journalism can still be effective,” Heinemann says.

Danes ditched Robertson
Last year two large Danish supermarket chains removed wine from Robertson Winery, one of the wineries portrayed in the film, from their shelves after adverse press coverage due to Heinemanns film.

It also led to local authorities in the Western Cape calling conditions in the wineries in the area “unacceptable” and “unethical” and improving the level and quality of inspections.

Human Rights Watch, the International Labour Organisation and other organisations have previously documented similar conditions on South African Wineries.

BITTER GRAPES Documentary – An Exemplary Cooperation

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The revealing story in the documentary BITRE DRUER (SOUR GRAPES) about the slave-like conditions for vineyard workers in South Africa, is a textbook example of a cooperation in Nordic investigative journalism at its best, according to editor Fredrik Laurin from SVT’s Uppdrag Granskning (UG). 

By: Henrik Hartmann

The last decade has seen a sharp rise in wine imports from South Africa, especially in Denmark and Sweden. In Denmark, imports have risen by 78 % and Systembolaget in Sweden
is now South Africa’s 3rd biggest wine customer. Wine from South Africa is cheap and consumers love it, but there’s a dark side to the story.

Tom Heinemann, the investigating journalist from Denmark, has produced several documentaries for Nordic public service companies. Recently, while completing another programme series for Nordvision, he got a tip about slave-like conditions for vineyard workers in several of South Africa’s vineyards. With development funding from SVT and DR Sales, he took
a research trip to South Africa. What he saw and heard con rmed the tip. The working and living conditions for vineyard labourers was unacceptable. He pitched the story to the investigative journalist group in Nordvision, and then received production support from DR, NRK and SVT, from Danida (Dansk development aid) and resources from the Nordvision fund.

Thorough Research 

Heinemann and his photographer Lotte la Cour went to South Africa three times to gather stories and cover wine production from start to nish: spraying, harvesting and cutting. Heinemann says:

“When we had identi ed where some of the wine that ends up in the Nordics came from, we went around visiting the relevant vineyards to talk to former and current employees Getting 

permission to lm was hard right from the start Everywhere we went we were refused entry and we had to work with really tiny cameras so as not to cause alarm ”
Before the third and nal production trip, Heinemann sent questions around to all the farms he wanted to visit and owners he wanted to interview. The response was an audible silence. None of the managers wanted to meet the TV crew.

Thorough Safety 

Safety precautions on the nal trip had to be thorough because a few months previously a couple of SVT journalists had been imprisoned in Zambia. It is also not unusual for people and journalists to be attacked in South Africa.

Fredrik Laurin, chief editor at UG, explains:

“We equipped Tom and his photographer with a project phone that had a tracking function, which we use in situations that may involve threats or where we know we have to be extra careful They used the phone daily and checked in regularly to report where they were and what was happening Back in the editorial o ce at UG in Gothenburg, we monitored the tra c from the project phone and talked to them about the di erent conditions ” 

It was particularly at the end, when two of the vineyard owners – with intervention from the national wine certi cation label entity – agreed to meet the TV crew that the situation grew very tense. The two vineyard owners had come only to make threats and to tell the journalists o . They had no intention of being involved in the programme.

Cooperation Between Danish External Producer
and Uppdrag Granskning (SVT)
Fredrik Laurin at UG in SVT can’t see any particular di erence between whether a project is in-house, outsourced or with a Swedish or Danish producer. He explains:
“We follow quite a strict, established pattern with the editor, reporter and the ‘devil’s advocate,’ who reviews the entire script line by line in a set standardised form where all factual information and controversial conditions must have a footnote and be fully sourced with further supportive evidence ” 

Major Debate in Sweden 

SVT were delighted with the story about the South Africa wine and reactions to the documentary resulted in an almost bigger debate in Sweden than in Denmark. Laurin says:
“We had a major debate in Sweden, which is slightly unusual 

for a UG project Part of the reason was that Systembolaget and the importer, who also represents Robertson Winery, chose a proactive press style and commented on and denied information before we released it This raised the expectations of the programme and awareness in other media ” 

Heinemann was also pleased with the documentary and has spent over a month being interviewed by varioius international and South African medias:
“I think this lm will have a major impact We can already see how several South African authorities have highlighted a long list of conditions in the South African wine industry, all of which are being criticised My local contacts and trade unions in South Africa tell me that our lm is a gamechanger when it comes to changing working and living conditions for the better” 

Recipe for Nordic Success 

Laurin sees major bene ts in Nordvision being able to work cooperatively on such complex productions, in which investigative stories invariably are.
“Being able to cooperate when you have subject matters that are universal or have cross-national interests, is only ever positive We can do it cheaper and maybe even better Personally, I think BITRE DRUER is a textbook example of how it should be done ” 

BITRE DRUER is Heinemann ́s fth Nordic co-production show in 10 years. He explains: “I know that the Nordic documentary editorial team wants a national angle That’s why it’s important to have a universal story, but also a story with a thread that leads to two or more Nordic countries As a producer you need to be able to deliver a modular story so that each documentary team can tailor it to create their own national version of the programme ” 

Inspections of South African Wine producers and sub suppliers of grapes

The state owned Norwegian alcohol monopoly, Vinmonopolet has just released the following press release:

 

Vinmonopolet will be conducting Special Inspections in the Western Cape between the 13.03.2017 and the 07.04.2017 on the supply chain for products sold in our retail and online stores.

We hope to inspect 30-40 farms and will address eight specific points related to:
  • The BSCI Code of Conduct. All workers must aware of their rights and responsibilities according to this code of conduct.
  • Freedom of Association and worker rights w.r.t joining and communicating with trade unions.
  • Access to clean drinking water whilst working.
  • Health and Safety and training, especially w.r.t. working with pesticides and personal protective equipment.
  • Grievance mechanisms and follow up on grievances.
  • Minimum wage and legality of deductions.

Our goal:

  • To address important concerns raised in the TV documentary Bitter Grapes and to contribute to improvements in the supply Chain
  • To ensure that all products sold at our stores are produced in accordance to the BSCI Code of Conduct and the South African Law.
  • To empower employers and employees with the right guidelines, if we find non compliances.

Unsure what the BSCI Code of conduct is?

This is the Code of Conduct that all importers sign when selling products to Vinmonopolet and our minimum requirement w.r.t. the products we sell.

See http://www.bsci-intl.org/

A short guide on the BSCI Code of conduct can be found on this poster.

For more information on workers’ rights, visit the CCMA website: http://www.ccma.org.za/Advice/Information-Sheet

Here you will find useful information on a variety of topics related to our audit.

We are in dialogue with:

  • The Nordic Importers
  • Local trade unions under the AWETUC Umbrella organisation in South Africa
  • Industry interest organisations in South Africa
  • NPOs in South Africa
  • Producers of wines and sub suppliers of wine grapes
  • Trade unions, Akademikerforbundet and FKV, in Vinmonopolet

The auditor:

Our inspections will be completed by an experienced and independent auditor with BSCI qualifications. The project coordinator will be present for most of the inspections and will act as Vinmonopolet`s ambassador. She will be reporting daily progress directly to the Vinmonopolet`s management in Norway.

The Auditor will contact all producers and farms to be inspected, a short time before the inspection.

Preparation for inspections

Vinmonopolet offers all producers and suppliers of wine grapes with information meetings.
Meeting times, dates and (eventually) locations for these meetings are to be found on http://vinmonopolet.pameldingssystem.no/information-meetings-for-wine-producers-and-suppliers-of-wine-grapes

A copy of the presentation is found here.

Trade Unions and employers may also choose to have meetings for their members or employees before the inspections, so to inform about the process ahead. We recommend that a copy of the BSCI Code of Conduct (as previously mentioned) is supplied and explained to all employees in a language they understand.

Since Vinmonopolet will not be providing such meetings to employees, we have been in dialogue with trade unions and they may be contacting facilities to apply for access, so to provide similar information meetings for employees. A copy of the presentation has been sent to leadership of AWETUC members :CSAAWU, BAWUSA; SAPTU, SDTU; AFRIWU and FAWU

Our target groups to be interviewed:

  • Farm  Management and Wine Producers
  • Casual, Migrant and Permanent workers on farms and at wine producers (Male and Female, Unionised and NON unionised)

The Results

These Special Reports will be shared with the relevant producers and farms, the importer and our Nordic Partners.

Consequences of non-compliance

If minor non- compliances are found, the employer will be given a short deadline to rectify this non-compliance.

If larger non compliances are found, the following steps will be taken:

  • Step 1: The producer/farm will be placed under full BSCI audit in 2018. (Paid by Vinmonopolet)
  • Step 2: Non-compliance after full BSCI audit will lead to a remediation plan and another BSCI audit. This BSCI audit will have to be paid by the producer/sub supplier.
  • Step 3: If all matters are rectified, the producer/sub supplier will be able to recommend other exporters to see the reports on the BSCI platform. The benefits of the BSCI audit is noted here: http://www.bsci-intl.org/content/benefits

If major non compliances are found after all audits, Vinmonopolet will consider terminating the contract.

When bitter grapes turns sweet

Major improvements for workers on one of the big exporters

By Tom Heinemann

 

Even if there is an upper limit to everything, there is good news for some of the farm workers at one of the big vineyards in South Africa.

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After exposing numerous violations of national law and the Swedish alcohol monopoly, Systembolaget’s ethical code of conduct pictured in the documentary film, “Bitter Grapes – Slavery in the vineyards”, some good things have started to happen.

After the film was aired in Scandinavia in October a storm broke out – especially in the South African media. After denying most – calling the documentary film “biased” and “one-sided” – industry bodies, importers and Systembolaget ensured the consumers that more independent inspections would be intensified.

However, the authorities overturned all the good intentions. Shortly after the film was aired, the Department of Labour along with the local government in the Western Cape went on an un-announced tour of inspections at the very same farms that were pictured in the documentary film.

And the results were depressing. On all five farms a number of corrective actions had to be taken. Some within two weeks others within 60 days.

One of the farms was Leeuwenkuil Family Vineyards, one of the big sellers at Systembolaget in Sweden. More than 30 different vineyards are producing grapes to Leeuwenkuil.

The inspectors from the Department of Labour visited three of the Leewuenkuil farms in the area and where one of them was part of the documentary.

Here they found a number of violations that apparently had been going on for years.

After the Department of Labour did their inspection at the three local Leewenkuil-farms they had to improve the following:

* Demolition of one or two houses that was not fit for people to live in as there were fear for that the houses could collapse.

* Leeuwenkuil must comply with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act concerning sick leave, as workers were not paid – even when they had made a written sick-leave document as stipulated in the law.

* Removal of “open” electrical wires that was endangering the lives and safety for workers and children

* The room where small children were taken care of during working hours had to me moved as it was in the same building where the chemicals and other pesticides were stored.

* Full stop of the farm shop (apparently owned by the wife of the owner)) as it was charging much over the normal rates and that it was therefore the huge deductions were made.

* Health and safety equipment must be handed out to the workers.

* The quality of drinking water had to be improved immediately

Both the importer of Leewenkuil to Scandinavia as well as the local representative of the Union CSAAWU, confirms that all the issues have been settled to the benefit of the workers.

However, two issues are still in progress. One is the fact that some of the workers for three years have paid rent for houses that didn’t live up to the legislation. Therefore the Department of Labour has demanded that the company have to pay back the money to the workers.

Finally, it is also a demand, that some of large deductions that were made on the workers monthly pay slips have to be paid back to the workers.

While the official inspections was commented by the local authorities, the Swedish alcohol monopoly, Systembolaget do not wish to comment on their own findings. According to the press officer from Systembolaget, Ida Ingerö, 11 inspections at various farms belonging to Leeuwenkuil were made during the fall:

“Regarding the results and what needs to be done is part of the business relations between us and our suppliers and the Swedish importers. Therefore we do not hand these plans out to others.”

 

Still a long way to go

Even if Deputy Secretary General, Karel Swart from CVSAAWU welcomes the many improvements for the workers at Leeuwenkuil as a “major victory after six years of battle”, he still describes the life of Leeuwenkuil workers is equal to the life of a slave:

“The owner Willie Dreyer still treats many of his workers as slaves. He acts very rude and keeps on insulting the workers. If we don’t keep up the pressure, he will continue to do so. This man belongs to the heritage of racism and Apartheid and if we don’t step up the pressure on him, he will continue to act like this”

When confronted with the complaints from the workers, the owner of Leeuwenkuil, Willie Dreyer denies all allegations. In a written response, he states that any “ (…) false allegations and negative communications via the media may have a detrimental effect on our business (…)”

Therefore Willie Dreyer will “(…) not hesitate to take legal action should it be required.”

 

Rewiev of “Bitter Grapes – Slavery in the vineyards”

By Eric Annino from the Terroirist

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In recent weeks, there has been great disruption in the South African wine industry thanks to a bold new investigative documentary called “Bitter Grapes – Slavery in the vineyards”

The film, which runs just short of an hour, exposes the horrible conditions of workers on South African wine farms, notably Robertson Winery. While it has so far only aired in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, the impact has been substantial: five wine farms in South Africa have been served non-compliance notices and at least one Danish supermarket chain has pulled Robertson’s wines.

The film’s premise is simple enough. South African wine imports to Nordic countries have been on the rise in recent years (up something like 78%). But while consumers have been reveling in cheap wine, they have failed to see the crooked path that brought the wine to their shelves.

Danish journalist and filmmaker Tom Heinemann exposes a form of modern slavery that’s long gone either unseen or ignored on South African wine farms. He visits the farms, speaks with the workers, and is mindful to get the other sides of the story, interviewing reps from the Nordic wine industry as well as a South African workers union. Not surprising, Heinemann is unable to get anyone from the wineries themselves to speak with him on camera.

What unfolds is a tale of ignorance, corruption, and racial divide. The majority black workforce is powerless to effect change, the white farm owners do all they can to maintain the low wage status quo and prevent union intervention, and the organizations who are supposed to be overseeing it all are, as one worker puts it, toothless.

Upwards of 100,000 workers live on the grounds of wine farms in South Africa, far away from the public eye. They live in slums, use disgusting open-air outhouses, and cook over fires built on piles of anything flammable. Deductions are taken from their already illegally low paychecks for these accommodations. In the vineyards, they spray dangerous pesticides and use little or no protection, apart from a thick paste that the women apply to their faces. South Africa actually has laws in place to protect workers from these conditions, but the laws are just not being enforced.

The most shocking scenes in Bitter Grapes are of young, pregnant women drinking heavily. This, the narrator explains, is largely due to a form of subjugation and control perpetrated by farm owners, who have historically paid their workers in alcohol. This practice only further enslaves the workers, forcing them to depend on the farmers for provision of the alcohol they crave.

Bitter Grapes is an emotionally captivating documentary. But if there’s one shortfall, apart from the absence of testimony from the farm owners, it’s the film’s call to action. In the closing scene the director of an organization called TCOE (Trust for Community Outreach and Education) urges viewers to only buy wine from South African winemakers who treat their workers with human dignity and don’t deny them their rights. Yet the whole film is an exposé on how the organizations regulating these winemakers are themselves negligent and corrupt, and how even the “Fair Trade” stickers on South African wine bottles can’t be trusted. So what’s the prescription here? What are consumers to do, short of visiting the wine farms themselves? It’s unclear.

My Recommendation
Bitter Grapes is worth the hour of your time. It’s eye opening and human. I’m not sure where else it will be aired, but do check out the website if you’re interested.

Huffington Post, SA: Wine Workers Win Resounding Battle, But Cannot Win The War Alone

More light needs to be shone on the conditions of farmworkers in South Africa’s winelands.

By: Dennis Webster

Researcher at Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa.

Workers at the Robertson Winery have returned to work this week with greater security. After 14 weeks of downed tools at the winery, they have won a backdated increase of 8% or R400 (whichever is greater) to their R29,00 – R3,500 salaries, an annual bonus worth a month’s salary in time for the festive season, and are apparently free from the threat of any disciplinary action. Last Wednesday brought to an end the committed and punishing industrial action, led by the workers and their union CSAAWU. The strike is poised to radically change the relationships between farm owners and workers on the Cape wine lands. These gains may well be compromised, however, if the current lacunae in middle class and mainstream media attention with regard to the plight of farmworkers persists.

 In a region where huge distances between farms debilitates many efforts to organise, and an industry notorious for its anti-union clampdowns and wages and working conditions, which workers have characterised as slave-like, CSAAWU’s victory is nothing short of ground-breaking. That the Robertson workers achieved it without the cushion of a strike fund is reminder that the union operates without the clout and resources of its affiliated peers. It has given assurance that it will continue to bring its “militant class struggle” to the doorsteps of South Africa’s wine producers.

But victories have been won before. The passing of the Extension of Security of Tenure Act (ESTA) in 1997, which guaranteed stronger occupation rights to workers living on farms, was one. The militant farm worker revolt in 2012 in and around De Doorns, which succeeded in a 50% increase in the minimum wage, was another.

Yet the unintended consequences of both of these, which have received little media attention, have been chilling. Producers closed ranks, and in an industry where work is increasingly casualised, found novel ways to underpay or unfairly evict and retrench workers. Neither ESTA nor the increase in the minimum wage due to farmworkers has translated into sustainable improvements in their lives.The role of supermarkets, whose price-cutting drives wages down, in perpetuating the working conditions on Western Cape farms will also need to be seriously interrogated.
So while another battle has been won, it must be remembered that the struggle will be long and exacting, and will be fought on multiple fronts if there is to be any chance of meaningful success. In the long-term, large landholdings will need to be broken apart and redistributed to the people who work them and the state. Liberalisation and de-regulation at the macro-economic level, which are the chief culprits of retrenchments on the ground, will have to be abandoned.

The role of supermarkets, whose price-cutting drives wages down, in perpetuating the working conditions on Western Cape farms will also need to be seriously interrogated. In the short-term, farm owners and managers must be held to account for unfair labour and housing practices, which have in recent years been repeatedly making their way to the Constitutional Court. One such case is that of Mrs Klaase, whose eviction was recently overturned by the Court. That judgment recognised the ESTA rights of spouses, whose rights of occupation are commonly conflated with those of their working husbands, and are regularly evicted from farms unfairly as a result.

CSAAWU has directed some of its limited resources to these fronts as well, and will demand later this week that the Robertson Abattoir – not to be confused with Robertson Winery – explain to the Labour Court why it dismissed 39 workers for protesting their working conditions, which CSAAWU argues grossly contravened their contracts and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, and included 18-hour work days for R80 pay.

A hefty responsibility in CSAAWU’s growing struggle, especially in the short term, lies with the media and middle-class solidarity, which have largely been reticent when compared to the international community. Solidarity from workers, activists and consumers in Sweden, for instance, resulted in a campaign to monitor and improve the working and living conditions of workers producing the wine sold in that country. The pressures that have risen in the wake of the revelations of a recent documentary, Bitter Grapes, eventually resulted in Danish supermarkets taking Robertson wine off of their shelves. These kinds of consumer pressure and solidarity are crucial to amplifying the voices of organised workers. If they are to succeed in their struggle for dignified lives, the support shown by the international community for farm workers’ struggles must be reflected and intensified in South Africa.

The mainstream media must play its part. Among the worst living conditions and human rights abuses in South Africa go by largely unnoticed and unchecked. The aftermath of the strike at Robertson Winery is uncertain territory. Buried in the unprecedented success of the workers and CSAAWU are the seeds of further exploitation. Just as they did in the wake of ESTA and the De Doorns strikes, farm owners may lash out in response to CSAAWU’s victories, and in the quiet on farms left unseen by an unobservant media, workers will bear the brunt.

The media can play a crucial role in consolidating the gains of workers by ensuring that any disciplinary action taken against workers in the wake of the strike are publicly exposed, and by shining a more relentless light on the unfair treatment of farm workers more generally. This will go some way to fostering support and solidarity.

If the centuries-long cycle of oppression on Western Cape farms is to be ended, the South African media and middle classes cannot allow a retaliation of the kind experienced before by farmworkers. Farm owners must be held to account.

Link to article

Mail & Guardian: Robertson Winery workers vow to fight on after landmark settlement

By Ra’eesa Pather

(…)

At Robertson, there are toilets that are reserved for white people. There is also a “3 o’ clock” system where only black workers have to clock in at three different entry points before they start their work, CSAAWU says.

A black mechanic earns less than half of a white mechanic’s salary. This is according to the workers and the union.  The racism inside Robertson is the battle labourers will take up when they return to work on Monday November 28.

Full story here

Strike at Robertson Winery is over

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No entry at one of Robertson Winery’s owners. Photo by: Lotte la Cour

Story from AIDC.org

CSAAWU wishes to announce that we have finally reached a settlement with Robertson Winery, which brings a heroic worker – led 14 week strike to an end. Workers will return to work on Monday 28 November. In summary, the terms of the settlement are as follows:

Workers have won an 8% across the board wage increase or R400, whichever is the greater. The increase is backdated to 8 August 2016. Back pay will be paid on 15 December. In addition, workers will receive a full annual bonus equal to a month salary paid on Friday 25 November. Whereas the company insisted on bringing disciplinary action against 16 of the strike leaders, this final agreement excludes any disciplinary action.

Full story here