South Africa: Confronting sexual harassment in the sugar sector: Joint work with FAWU (Chapter II)

From 1-5 February, the IUF Sugar and Palm Oil project held joint activities with the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) that focused on issues of concern for women workers. Some twenty delegates from the Sezela Sugar Estate and neighbouring cane farms participated and heard reports on the local situation and from Harden Heights, a cane growing operation.

Workshop at Sezela Sugar Estate

The main concern was the stance of workers and the union regarding Sexual Harassment and what is required for the its prevention and the resolution of cases. The workshop stated that organising women workers, through FAWU Gender Forums for instance, is key in empowering women to prevent sexual harassment, as the overwhelming majority of cases have a woman as the object. Sensitisation programs have to be part of ongoing training, including induction sessions for new hires and refreshment programs for all employee. The workshop also recommended that “task teams” will be set up to support FAWU’s activities with women workers and to contribute to the IUF Sugar project.

Participants at the IUF Sugar/FAWU Sezela Workshop

Additionally, the workshop discussed how Maternity Protection can be improved through negotiations under the national Sugar Bargaining Council, in particular the cash benefits that at present represent 30 percent on wages and the provision of child care facilities. FAWU programs in training and development, said the workshop, should emphasise Equity/Equality in the workplace, and preparing members to press for the implementation of the Employment Equity Act that promotes the inclusion of disadvantaged social groups.

Given the ongoing work done by the FAWU female members at Sezela, it was agreed that two of them would be invited to cooperate with the implementation of the IUF Sugar project, at both the national and regional levels.

Sezela Sugar Estate is owned by Illovo Sugar and it is located in the South Coast region of KwaZulu Natal province.

Workshop at Harden Heights

Sexual Harassment, said a woman delegate, is difficult everywhere but it seems even more difficult in farm operations.[1] The isolation of workers, intrinsically linked to field work, and cultural and social pressures, low levels of formal education, poor lodging facilities, and being away from home among other factors, builds a situation of vulnerability for women engaged in farm work.

IUF Sugar and FAWU Workshop at Harden Heights

IUF Sugar and FAWU Workshop at Harden Heights

The Harden Heights workshop strongly recommended sensitisation programs on sexual harassment for workers, both male and female, and to develop skills to prevent and help resolving cases. The combined efforts of IUF Sugar and FAWU are important because empowering women farm workers touches additional relevant aspects, such as the completion of the final year of high school (“matric”) and solving pressing needs to improve living conditions, such as cooking and sleeping facilities, as well as working conditions like transportation and safety conditions.

Harden Heights is a cane growing operation of about 5,000 acres in the Dalton area. There are about 220 workers employed on a full-time basis and 150 on contract work. From the total workers, about 160 are women. Members of FAWU are 123. Total cane production is about 20,000 tonnes, which are delivered to the UCL mill.

Contacts within the South African sugar sector

Continuing with the efforts to maintain contacts with other groups in the South African sugar sector, IUF Sugar and FAWU visited the South African Sugar Association (SASA), which guides the relationship between millers and farmers and, as such, represents the employers’ view on the sector. The meeting dealt with two aspects. On one hand, there was a presentation on SASA’s strategic work on behalf of the sector, which finds itself in the midst of some important developments, such as the current drought, health issues around sugar consumption in major industrialised countries, proposals for diversification of production (i.e. cogeneration and bioethanol) among others. A second area was SASA’s work on sexual harassment, on which he organisation has developed expertise and educational materials. Contacts on both areas are expected to continue.

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[1] “Women workers, particularly those in plantations, export processing zones, contingent, temporary and/or migrant workers can be particularly vulnerable.” See: IUF, IndustriALL, Unilever Joint Commitment to preventing sexual harassment at

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1 comment

    • Miriam Wanyama on February 29, 2016 at 9:08 am

    My SA sisters and Brothers,I love your struggle.You began small and now you have forums where Women can confidently express their views.What you are going through as workers is what we are going through too. Lets join efforts and solidify the international solidarity to make this world a better place.Thanx Jorge for the tireless efforts.

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