A workshop by the IUF Global Sugar Program and the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) identified three main goals in a future joint work: support the unionisation of cane cutters and other field workers; emphasis on issues relevant to women and young workers, and broader use of information technology in the union’s daily work as goals. The workshop was held on 26 September in Durban and was attended by key persons for the strategic planning. It was also the final activity of the five-year IUF Global Sugar project in East and Southern Africa supported by the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and the CLC-Labour International Development Program (LIDP).
Along with the workshop, FAWU also completed a two-phase IT training for sugar shop-stewards as well as union officials from the Durban office, with the first sessions running from 20-24 August, and the closing sessions on 18-19 and 27-28 September. The participants in the training are to support the future work, which in fact has already started. For instance, Pauline (Titi) Ngcobo was recently elected chairperson at the FAWU Noodsberg branch, becoming the first woman to hold such post among the sugar membership. Titi credits her participation in IUF Sugar activities for further developing her union skills and building her self-confidence, decisive factors to win the support of her union colleagues. Siphisile (Sihle) Silinda has contributed with original research for a web site article on women workers in Darnall, the factory she works at. And Nelisiwe (Nelly) Nxumalo, a process operator in the Sezela factory and FAWU first female sugar shop-steward, has consistently participated in the IUF Sugar activities, and as a result she was invited to the 2012 Summer School of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) last July. (Darnall is owned by Tongaat-Hulett; Noodsberg and Sezela are owned by Illovo Sugar.)
The FAWU sugar membership is the union’s first sector benefitting from an special IT training program, with the potential to be a pilot project on how to develop similar sector-based networks in the future. The interventions of the IUF Global Sugar Program through the African project combine effectively with FAWU’s reorganisation program that also proposes organising vulnerable workers in four sectors: sugar (field workers), fisheries, forestry and merchandising. The training is relevant organically speaking because three of the national coordinators assigned to these sectors are based in the Durban office, site of the KwaZulu Natal provincial structure of FAWU.
The workshop was also clear that programmatic goals cannot be achieved without practical actions. Among these is the gathering of information on FAWU sugar membership, and in general on the labour force in the sector. Both the union structures and the National Bargaining Council for the Sugar Manufacturing and Refining Industry can provide a starting point to collect such information which, once processed (also using IT skills), would become a key input for programs to improve the sugar members’ representation and, by extension, to attract new members.
With the support of women trainees, the IUF Sugar Program has agreed to launch initiatives on specific themes and workplaces, aiming to document and support union actions on areas of concern to women workers. Topics such as maternity protection, child care and early childhood education facilities, and sexual harassment are initially considered. To produce such original information is a sizeable task but, at the same time, the relevance of processing such information to strengthen FAWU’s representation of women workers in sugar is massive.
It is worth mentioning that the recommendations made by the FAWU workshop are similar to the ones made by the recent workshop with Kenya’s KUSPW, providing basis for future involvement of the IUF Global Sugar Program in Africa. Read the Kenya report here.