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The Agricultural Ethical Trade Initiative of South Africa (trading as WIETA) has condemned in the strongest possible terms any unfair treatment and illegal labour practices  occurring at some farms within the agricultural sector.

WIETA CEO Linda Lipparoni said poor working conditions, unilateral changes to conditions of employment and attempts to deny workers their freedom of association on  certain farms and incidences of violence, would fuel talk of industrial action.

WIETA, its member organisations and producers members strongly urge fellow producers in the wine industry to comply with the legislation and to demonstrate fair and ethical labour practices.

Lipparoni said WIETA and its members unreservedly supported the R105 minimum per day wage for farm workers proclaimed by the Department of Labour through the Sectoral Determination for Farm Workers. "WIETA condemns any non-compliance with the legal minimum wage determination and  any unilateral enforcement of changed working conditions that may be  implemented by some employers to compensate for the additional cost of labour since the new sectoral determination came into effect in March."

She stressed that while the WIETA code of good practice recognised R105 as the legislated minimum wage, it also actively promoted the principle of a living wage.
"The WIETA Code promotes  benefits given in addition to the minimum wageas better practice. Any changes to worker contracts, conditions of employment and benefits should be driven through a process of fair and equitable negotiation in which all workers have a genuine opportunity to represent their interests.”

WIETA has also lauded the positive progress made by producer member’s to obtain ethical accreditation and has reiterated that responsible conduct and constructive dialogue are paramount to ensure mutual trust and respect between all stakeholders in the wine industry.

“It is encouraging to see various wine industry stakeholders proactively taking part in discussion forums amongstproducers, labour representatives and government. A central platform for open dialogue and complaints resolution is critical to ensure mutually acceptable solutions for industry challenges, as well as to establish appropriate channels for conflict resolution.

"We urge all parties to participate in these constructive dialogues to ensure a culture of fair and ethical farming that is both morally and socially responsible and economically sustainable."

Lipparoni stated  that last year, in a bid to promote fair labour practices and to highlight progress being made to international trading partners, WIETA had launched the world's first industry-wide ethical seal.  "Fully supported by producer bodies, civil society and organised labour in the wine industry, it testifies to fair and reasonable working conditions on farms. As the seal is totally traceable, it serves as a guarantee to consumers that the brands they purchase, comply with WIETA's code."

She said the wine industry had made great strides over the past year with a significant increase in participation and accreditations.  WIETA currently has close to 660 members.

"We encourage all wine producers to join WIETA and show their commitment to fair and ethical labour practices.Other initiatives taken include an industry-wide renewed focus on skills development and training for farm and cellar workers and community development."

WIETA, formed as a not-for-profit association in 2002 to promote ethical trade in the wine industry value chain, represents industry organisations such as SA Liquor Brand Owners' Association, Vinpro, Wines of South Africa, as well as many commercial wine and grape producers, along with civil society organisations and trade unions; BAWUSA, FAWU, The Centre for Rural Legal Studies, Women on Farms and Sikhula Sonke.