Calls are mounting for the safe transportation of farmworkers in the Western Cape, and for existing strategies and proposals to be implemented. This follows the death of another farmworker near Citrusdal in the Western Cape.
While details around the death remain sketchy, the 26-year-old farmworker was allegedly on the back of a trailer attached to a tractor driving on a tar road when the tractor suddenly swerved to avoid a pothole in the road. The incident took place on Tuesday, 8 August 2023.
The worker fell off and the wheel of the trailer went over his head. He was declared dead on the scene.
It is further alleged that the driver of the tractor did not have the necessary documentation to operate the tractor on a public road. There were approximately 54 workers on the trailer.
Who is responsible?
Billy Claasen, executive director of Rural and Farmworkers Development Organisation, said the tragic accident could have been prevented if the necessary safety measures were taken.
“The transportation of farmworkers has become a hot debate in the rural areas and the agricultural sector. Hardly a month goes by without hearing of a fatal accident where farmworkers are involved. In some cases, farmworkers died or get seriously injured,” he said.
Claasen added that something drastic needs to be done to change the rate at which farmworkers are dying in tragic cases on or off farms.
“This is sometimes passed by unnoticed because not much attention has been given to the issues of farmworkers.”
Emerentia Patientia, senior project officer for Fairtrade Africa, said the transportation of farmworkers has been on the discussion tables of organised agriculture for years. There seems to be a gap in following through on various proposals, she said.
“The responsibility cannot solely rest on the producers as they are not obligated to transport the workers,” she said.
“I am aware of discussions that have been held at government level but somehow these discussions fall short of implementation.”
Patientia raised flags about whether the right combination of people around these decision-making tables impacts the lives and livelihoods of farmworkers.
The way forward
There needs to be a consolidated and integrated approach to find amicable solutions to this long-standing problem, Patentia said. “And this can’t just be a policy change. It’s also to ensure that these solutions are sustainable, ensure worker safety and maintain producer profitability.”
Patentia agreed that the rate at which accidents in the agricultural sector happen is unacceptable and cannot be overlooked in the manner that is. She suggested a task team who ensures that the process is driven as a way forward.
Claasen appealed to big companies who benefit from farm work and agricultural ethical organisations to look into these issues and come up with solutions.
“We need to take hands to get rid of this inhumane transportation of farmworkers on open trucks and bakkies as well as trailers at the back of tractors,” he said.
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