British charity backs women in UK market jobs protest to Zuma

By staff writers
July 29, 2009

Women workers who are angry over poor pay and conditions on farms and vineyards supplying UK supermarkets will dramatically confront South Africa's ANC president today.

The union Sikhula Sonke, the partner of British NGO War on Want, will demonstrate outside the parliament in Cape Town amid growing civil unrest in South Africa.

The Western Cape women's protest at poor wages and housing and forced evictions, will come just before the Stellenbosch wine festival opens on Thursday 30 July 2009.

They will gather at 11.00 am at St George's Cathedral in Wale Street, with Zuma expected to address them one hour later.

In a report published in February 2009, the anti-poverty charity War on Want cited worsening conditions for employees as UK retailers and wine brokers drive down suppliers' prices to boost their profits.

Amid rising food and fuel costs, large numbers of workers in the Western Cape region have been struggling to feed and clothe their families and pay for healthcare and their children's school fees, says War on Want.

Supermarkets control the biggest share of the UK wine market, selling over 80 per cent of all imports. Britain is the world's largest importer of South African wine, buying almost a third by volume. Tesco sells most South African wine (20 per cent), the Co-op 14 per cent, Sainsbury's 12 per cent and Asda and Morrisons 9 per cent each.

The report, Sour Grapes, said that supermarkets and wine agents force suppliers to cut production costs by dominating markets and abusing their buyer power. This traps vineyard and fruit employees in low pay and insecure jobs. Farmers increasingly hire seasonal employees who earn less and lack the entitlements received by permanent workers, such as housing and sick pay.

Many farms are in remote places and workers unable to afford transport must walk there. The report says that most seasonal employees are women who earn less than men on permanent contracts and often suffer from sexual harassment at work.

Growing numbers of workers are migrants who travel long distances in a desperate hunt for even temporary jobs. Migrants experience problems defending their rights as they do not speak Afrikaans, the main Cape language.

War on Want has been urging shoppers to write to business secretary Lord Mandelson, urging him to enable overseas workers to seek redress if UK companies or their suppliers exploit them.

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