1. A Brief History of Sikhula Sonke: Who are we?
Sikhula Sonke, meaning we grow together (IsiXhosa) works with farm dwellers, mainly in the Western Cape Province. Sikhula Sonke is a women led trade union and its registration was granted on 10 December 2004. It operates as a social movement dealing with all livelihood challenges of farmwomen (domestic violence, food insecurity alcoholism etc. Sikhula Sonke is a member’s driven organisation and is a vehicle for women voices to be heard. The overall mission of Sikhula Sonke is to empower and to serve farm women. The establishment of Sikhula Sonke represents an organic development flowing from the mobilisation work by the women on Farms Project (WFP). The rationale behind this movement is to locate agency with the primary constituency of the organisation.
Sikhula Sonke’s primary focus remains to foster self-organisation and direct action at a grassroots level.
2. Our Constituency & Geographic Focus Areas
The primary Sikhula Sonke constituency is defined as women who live or work on farms. Women who work in the agro-processing industry are also included in this group. Children and men on farms are secondary constituents. The Sikhula Sonke office is located in Stellenbosch of the Western Cape Province. Our fieldwork is concentrated in the Winelands and Overberg District Municipalities of the Western Cape (where more than half of South African commercial farms are concentrated), while campaigning and legislation engagements entail national and international partnerships at various levels.
3. Programmes: What do we focus on?
Sikhula Sonke implements the following activities:
- Institution Building
- Case work
- Training and Capacity building
- Collective bargaining
These areas have been identified through needs assessments with farmwomen. At the 2005 annual congress of Sikhula Sonke, a participatory needs assessment was undertaken identifying the problems and priorities of farmwomen.
4. Competencies: How do we do this?
Sikhula Sonke carries out work in these areas by carrying out the following core functions:
4.1 Training & Capacity Building A large part of the work focuses on building skills, knowledge and consciousness among farmwomen through a socio-economic rights-based training approach. This is achieved through workshops at farm and district levels, public awareness initiatives and through the provision of mentoring and support. Training is carried out through a network of farmwomen “Resource Agents”. These resource agents, are, as their title indicates, intended to serve as a resource within a specific focus area on a farm.
4.2 Campaigns Campaigns are aimed at “amplifying the voices of farmwomen” with the objective of positively influencing decision making in favour of farmwomen. This work is both proactive and reactive in response to issues arising in the field. Campaigns are also engaged in response to incidences of rights violations uncovered during the course of our work. These have included cases of evictions, labour inspections on farms and health and Safety. In addition to these campaign initiatives, Sikhula Sonke also facilitates farmwomen’s engagement in relevant policy and legislative processes.
4.3 Case Work Since 1994 a range of laws and policies have been introduces to protect the rights of farmwomen within the framework of the South African Constitution and Bill of Rights. A range of obstacles obstructs farmwomen from accessing these new rights in law. Hence, despite new progressive laws, rights violations are still pervasive on the farmlands. In incidences of rights violations, Sikhula Sonke offers advice and legal support to members by representing them in dismissal and unfair labour practice disputes. The most common problems relate to: housing evictions, exploitative labour practise, access to state social security assistance and alcoholism.
4.4 Building grassroots structures Sikhula Sonke build structures to ensure members are informed and active in all the activities of the union. 85% of the leadership on all levels are women.
5. Achievements to date
As reported by an external evaluator it is obvious that Sikhula Sonke made tremendous inroads into organising farm workers.
5.1 Collective Bargaining Agreements CBAs negotiating collective bargaining agreements (CBA) on behalf of Sikhula Sonke members have yielded many positive results. The CBAs finalised to date have included: Benefits to women include paid maternity leave, housing contracts in their own names and introduction of crèche (day care) facilities, Wage increases from 7% to 15%; the provision of protective clothing in 100% of CBAs; the installation of toilets in the orchards and vineyards; annual bonuses; transport and medical support/aid.
5.2 Recruitment of seasonal workers Sikhula Sonke made inroads into organising seasonal, migrant workers and has managed to recruit around 2000 seasonal workers. Sikhula Sonke has been very successful in taking up misconduct and disciplinary cases in a manner that ensures that farm workers retain their jobs and housing on farms. What has been particularly significant has been the extent to which Sikhula Sonke has assisted women, particularly seasonal farm workers, to fend off unfair labour practices that discriminates against them on gender grounds.
5.3 Representation on farms and at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) 106 workers who were dismissed got their jobs back. Sikhula Sonke’s involvement in a specific retrenchment (redundancy) case saw all 219 people getting their jobs back, retaining and even improving their livelihoods. Sikhula Sonke has been mostly effective with dealing with unfair labour practice cases where 86.7% of workers represented were women.
5.4 Decent Work, Decent Lives Campaign Sikhula Sonke has successfully challenged employers on a number of issues. Shop stewards on a number of farms have secured protective clothing for workers and have also stopped the spraying of pesticides whilst workers are at work on a number of farms.
5.5 Anti Evictions Sikhula Sonke in partnership with Women on Farms and other land rights organisations achieved a historic moratorium on evictions in Jonkershoek in Stellenbosch after threatening to invade land in Jonkershoek.
More then 200 families who were threatened with eviction notices throughout the Western Cape are still in their homes after intervention from Sikhula Sonke. In most cases housing contracts were changed into the names of women.