South African farm-workers who have waged violent strikes since November are winning their battle for higher minimum wages. The victory may cost thousands their jobs, as farmers mechanize to guard supply contracts with clients such as Asda, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT)’s U.K. chain.
Three people have died and packing sheds and vineyards have been torched in strike-related protests in the Western Cape, the nation’s biggest fruit-producing region. Workers are demanding the minimum wage be raised to 150 rand ($17) a day from 70 rand. While the government will legislate new pay standards by April 1, some farmers have already agreed to increases.
South Africa exports about 12 billion rand worth of fruit a year. It accounts for about 11 percent of the world’s table grape and pear shipments, and is the ninth largest wine producer, U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows.
The farm strikes coincided with the peak harvesting season, placing the nation’s reputation as a reliable supplier at stake and raising the risk of market share being lost to competitors such as Chile, according to Pretoria-based Agri SA, the main farmers’ organization.
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