“The De Doorns unrest taught many farm owners the value of dealing with the organised voice of workers. You should accept and recognise the fact that trade unions serve a purpose. They provide a structure for dialogue and they serve as the mouthpiece for workers,” said Katishi Masemola, secretary-general of the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU).

He stressed, however, that dialogue between farmers and trade unions must be meaningful. “There must be a useful exchange of information. If there is a collective bargaining process when something like a farmer’s resources are under pressure, the message can be conveyed to workers via the union. In many cases this does not happen and this gives rise to undue conflict, which could have been avoided if information was timely communicated. In the past, companies that were under pressure invited us to analyse their books. This creates a mutual understanding that can only be established by means of dialogue,” Masemola said.

He pointed out that unions are also interest groups and that dialogue will not, in all instances, replace the inevitable – such as strikes. “But at least when this happens, it will not be due to a lack of dialogue. It simply means that we have reached the stage where we no longer agree.”

“It is time for the inequality in people’s income in South Africa to be addressed. The gap in income is widening and we will seriously and openly discuss the issue. It is becoming a serious pressure point. While Brazil was previously the most unequal society in the world, South Africa now carries that label.”

“I believe that continuous engagement, honest discussions and meaningful dialogue will improve labour relations in the agro-food value chain. After De Doorns, we received many calls from farmers all over the country, requesting us to engage with them. I believe that many farmers now realise the value of such engagement,” Masemola said.