Strike at Robertson Winery is over


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

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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.

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CAPE TOWN – The Western Cape Department of Labour has served notices of non-compliance to five wine farms in the province relating to the poor working conditions of farm workers.

This comes after concern was raised by various groups, including the Department of Economic Opportunities and Tourism over a Danish documentary Bitter Grapes: Slavery in the Vineyards.

The department’s chief inspector David Esau says they served five wine farms in the Drakenstein and Robertson areas with notices of non-compliance of certain labour laws.

“Provision letters mean we are prohibiting a particular action to take place and the contravention notices relate to the supply of protective clothing of workers. In terms of the provision that related to he drinking water, it was tested and found not to be suitable for drinking.”

Esau says the farms will be given sixty days to comply with the notices or face possible prosecution.

“I heard the water has been shut down and new and fresh water has been supplied by the farmer. In terms of the contraventions, we have given them 60 days to correct those and we will be going back in 60 days to see if they had corrected whatever we found to be non-compliant.”

The Sunday Times: Danish filmmaker vindicated by wine farm probe

Danish filmmaker Tom Heinemann says his exposé of the poor treatment of workers at some of the country’s top wine estates has been vindicated by an investigation by the Department of Labour.

Western Cape economic opportunities MEC Alan Winde said on Thursday that clear evidence had been found by the department of some employees being poorly treated. “This was never‚ ever acceptable‚ and it still isn’t. It will not be tolerated‚” Winde said after being briefed by the national Department of Labour. The department probed allegations contained in Heinemann’s documentary‚ entitled Bitter Grapes — Slavery in the Vineyards‚ which has been aired in Denmark and Sweden.

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Breaking: Action follows investigation into wine documentary allegations


Statement by Alan Winde, Minister of Economic Opportunities,

Western Cape

17 November 2016

I have been briefed on the findings of the Department of Labour’s investigation into the allegations made in a recent documentary on the wine industry.

The Western Cape Government assisted in this investigation, and welcomes the issuing of contravention notices. We also note the law that gives farmers 60 days to take corrective action, and 14 days to rectify the most critical failures.

Of particular concern were the contraventions found at one farm, where workers did not have access to safe drinking water, and where housing was not of an acceptable standard.

While we acknowledge that the farmer has 14 days to deal with these concerns, I have instructed the Farm Worker Support unit within the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, to assist in improving this situation urgently.

My department attended an engagement today (17 November 2016) with the Department of Labour and wine and agriculture organisations during which the investigation was discussed.

Together we agreed on a clear way forward, which will include joint information sessions with the Department of Labour and Agri Western Cape around health and safety training. This has been identified as a key concern. All parties also agreed to increased co-operation and sharing of information pertaining to issues on wine farms.

I am also meeting Social Development Minister Albert Fritz to work on putting systems in place to detect any violations on farms timeously, through the Provincial Department of Social Development’s network of social workers.

This investigation has brought clear evidence to light that there are employees in our economy who receive very poor treatment. This was never ever acceptable, and it still isn’t. It will not be tolerated. I will be engaging with organised agriculture. We will take a hard line against these acts, and root out offenders. We cannot allow unethical operations at some farms to put people’s well-being and an entire industry, which employs over 200 000 people, in jeopardy.


Wine: A bad taste in the mouth

From Businesslive


A year ago the Wall Street Journal declared SA wines “the best fine wines for your money “. Many others have dished out praise, including Tim Atkin, a leading international wine critic, who in 2014 wrote: ” [SA] is one of the most exciting and dynamic wine-producing countries in the world.”

After years of marketing by producers and industry organisations to have SA wines recognised as being among the world’s finest, things finally seemed to be coming right.

Then, in October, came the release in Denmark and Sweden of Bitter Grapes – Slavery in the Vineyards, a 58-minute documentary directed by Danish filmmaker Tom Heinemann.

Sweden and Denmark are among the top-10 importers of SA wine and account for a combined 11% (45Ml) of annual exports.

Fuelled by headlines such as “SA wines removed from Danish shelves”, the documentary — which is also likely to be aired in the UK, SA’s biggest export market, the US, Germany and Norway — sent shock waves through the local wine industry.

(Full story here)




CorpWatch: Robertson Winery Accused Of Slavery-Like Practices In South Africa

by Richard SmallteacherCorpWatch Blog
November 3rd, 2016

Bitter Grapes—Slavery in the Vineyards,” a new Danish television documentary, alleges that many South African wineries pay their workers less than the legal minimum wage; discourages them from unionizing; and exposes them to toxic pesticides. The documentary singles out Robertson’s Winery in the Western Cape region.

The film, which was made by journalist Tom Heinemann, claims that workers are often paid R105 ($7.76) for a 12-hour shift and that living conditions for workers are abysmal. “I saw very very depressing things. I saw housing that was literally falling apart, rain coming down the roofs,” Heinemann told 702, a Danish radio station. “I saw people have to live off water from a drain ditch alongside a road. I saw toilets that were locked up, so they had to walk into the vineyards to do their toilet.”

“People say apartheid is gone. But if you go into our rural areas, apartheid is still very much alive,” one interviewee told Heinemann in the documentary.

Nor do the workers have anybody to advocate for them. “The [vineyard owners] don’t like unions,” Deneco Dube, paralegal adviser to the Commercial Stevedoring Agricultural and Allied Workers’ Union (CSAAWU), told Heinemann. “They will find the leader of the union, or someone speaking out on behalf of the workers. Lawful or not, he will dismiss them. He believes that when you cut the leadership’s head, the whole body is nothing any more.”

South Africa has produced wine since 1655 when Jan van Riebeeck of the Netherlands colonized the land of the Khoikhoi people in the Western Cape region on behalf of the Dutch East India Company. The vineyards were set up to supply ships sailing from Europe to Asia. As the Dutch expanded their presence, they brought slaves to work on their farms and vineyards.

Since the days of colonization, the vineyard workers have never been well treated. A survey of their conditions as recently as 1996 estimated that less than 50 percent of workers had electricity, 34 percent had no running water and 27 percent did not have any toilets.

Indeed, for most of the time that grapes have been cultivated in the Cape, workers were partly paid with wine instead of money, a practice that was outlawed in 1961, but Heinemann says continues informally to this day.

In 2011, Human Rights Watch published a report titled ‘Ripe with Abuse: Human Rights Conditions in South Africa’s Fruit and Wine Industries,’ based on 260 interviews.  “The wealth and well-being these workers produce shouldn’t be rooted in human misery,” Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a press releae at the time. “The government, and the industries and farmers themselves, need to do a lot more to protect people who live and work on farms.”

But five years later, apparently, not much has changed.

Heinemann singles out Robertson’s Winery, which is located on the Breede river in the Langeberg mountains. Some 220 Robertson’s vineyard workers have been on strike since August, demanding a minimum monthly wage of R8,500 ($628). The vineyard has countered with an offer that is a little less than half that amount – R4,000 a month ($295.50)

The winery has responded by saying that the documentary was biased because it relied heavily on CSAAWU which is backing the worker’s strike.

“Robertson Winery views the documentary ‘Bitter Grapes’ as a one sided and somewhat superficial depiction of the circumstances of the South African wine sector,” Anton Cilliers, CEO of Roberston wrote in a comment on the company website. “The documentary chose to pursue the false narrative that Robertson Winery is party to payment of ‘slave wages and apartheid practices.’ So too, the fact that employees of Robertson Winery have access to free medical facilities as well as access to housing subsidies/loans and opportunities to further their education, was simply overlooked and ignored in the documentary.”

The winery has also enlisted support from the industry. “I would very much like to emphasise that Robertson Winery is not tantamount to slavery,” Martin Horwitz, the head of corporate social responsibility at PrimeWine, the company that imports Robertson wines in Sweden. “Salaries are relative and reviewed annually by SA8000-certified accountants. Additionally, salaries are reviewed alongside experience, job description, gender and ethnicity.”

Despite these statements, since Heinemann’s film aired in October, a number of Danish supermarkets have either taken Robertson wines off their shelves or canceled future import orders, such as Dagrofa, Kiwi, Meny and Spar.

Striking South African farm labourers could go to prison

By Peter Kenworthy with permission from the author


6 months in prison for the leaders of the union and a fine of 500,000 rand for the union, or about ten years’ salary for a farm worker at Robertson Winery. This might be the result of a court case between the farm workers union CSAAWU and the wine company.

The farm workers at Robertson Winery have been on strike for over 2 months, demanding a living wage and decent working conditions. Robertson Winery claim that the strike is illegal, and that the striking workers have intimidated and assaulted replacement workers, something that CSAAWU denies vigorously.

According to CSAAWU, Robertson Winery has also demanded that the court fine CSAAWU leaders individually, and threatened to withdraw the annual Christmas bonus for the striking workers, which many of them depend upon, to bolster their salaries of around 3000-4000 rand [£240, €250, $300].

The verdict in the case between CSAAWU and Robertson Winery will be handed down in ten days’ time.

Taking on the South African wine industry
But according to CSAAWU, the problem is larger than the sub-minimum wage salaries and poor working conditions at a few South African wineries such as Robertson Winery.

“We are not only fighting the Robertson Winery bosses, but the whole South African wine industry. All the bosses rally behind Robertson Winery, and we suspect that they are bank-rolling them. They have a clear strategy to smash CSAAWU, as we are the most outspoken union in the wine industry and agricultural sector,” says deputy general secretary of CSAAWU, Karel Swart.

“We will meet with our members to make a proper assessment. But when you stand up against big business you will see big casualties.”

Bitter grapes
Wines from Robertson Winery have been removed from the shelves in several Danish supermarkets, and there has been an ongoing debate on the working conditions in the South African wine industry in Sweden and Norway, in mayor newspapers such as the Washington Post, and particularly in South Africa itself.

The debate started, after Danish documentarist Tom Heinemann’s film “Bitter Grapes” was shown on DanishSwedishand Norwegian national television.

Robertson Winery issued a statement on October 28, where they said that Tom Heinemann’s documentary is “one-sided and somewhat superficial,” and that claims in the film of salaries below the minimum wage, unlawful wage deductions, illegal evictions and the lack of the right to join a union or bargain collectively are untrue.

But according to Tom Heinemann, all he did was to document the truth.

“Whether they like it or not, the conditions in many farms in South Africa are similar to what I showed in my film. I truly believe that if I had made any wrongdoings in my film, they would probably have sued me a long time ago. Regarding the critique of my film for being one-sided is solely their own fault. They have had the chance to participate. They refused – and in a way that’s sad,” he says.

Read more about the conditions in the South African wine industry in reports from Human Rights WatchILO, economist Dick Forslund and BAWSI.

Washington Post: A documentary raises questions about ‘slavery’ in South Africa’s vineyards

By Krista Mahr

Full story here

For centuries, workers in South Africa’s undulating vineyards were paid some of their salary in wine, a disastrous arrangement called the “dop” system that was outlawed in the early 1960s. The practice unofficially continued for decades under apartheid and has tapered off under strict new laws. But a new film investigating labor conditions in South Africa’s wine industry alleges that the legacy of the dop system — and many other old inequities — continue to haunt farmworkers today.

Danish journalist Tom Heinemann, director of the film “Bitter Grapes,” visited wine farms in South Africa’s bucolic Western Cape, where he found that some workers were allegedly being paid less than the minimum wage, exposed to pesticides, consuming dangerous amounts of alcohol and discouraged from joining unions, among other problems.

Scandinavia is a major importer of South Africa’s affordable wine, and the film prompted at least one Danish wholesaler to remove the wines from Robertson Winery, a popular South African company featured in the film, from its supermarkets while the company looks into the matter.