South Africa: IUF Sugar focuses on Women Sugar Workers

From October 20-26, the IUF Sugar project in Kenya and South Africa implemented a series of activities in coordination with FAWU, including two women workers workshops (Sezela and Darnall), an open meeting with about fifty farm women workers (UCL in the Dalton area), a visit to the Durban refinery, and an evaluation and planning meeting with the KwaZulu Natal provincial office of FAWU. Participating in the activities were Qinisela Silangwe, FAWU KwaZulu Natal provincial secretary, Phillip Mokwena, FAWU Gender Coordinator and Drayton Rinquest, ICT official and currently coordinating IUF Sugar project activities with FAWU.

Women’s Forum in Sezela (Oct. 21)


Participants at the Sezela Workshop

The Women’s Forum in Sezela, chaired by FAWU’s Nelisiwe Nxumalo, gathered twenty-seven participants for a one-day workshop. This was the first estate-level women workshop organised by IUF Sugar, and the Forum had decided to have an introduction on issues relevant to their daily work. The workshop discussed four topics: Maternity Protection, Sexual Harassment, Equality in the Workplace, and a Women’s Advocate Program.

South Africa presents specific features related to Equality/Equity in the Workplace. The Employment Equity Act of 1998 requires employers to implement an Employment equity plan, with clear goals and terms, ensuring actions favouring previously disadvantaged groups, including women. Trade unions have an active role to play and the IUF Sugar is supporting women to achieve equal opportunities of employment and equality in the workplace. Sexual Harassment, as reported by the Sezela participants, is a worrying and growing concern, particularly in farm operations. (The issue was also raised by the Darnall workshop and the meeting with farm women workers in UCL.) The IUF Sugar Program presented information on Maternity Protection from several sugar companies around the world (Africa, Caribbean) as well as ILO Convention No 183. As the IUF Sugar project is supported by the Social Justice Fund of the Canadian Auto Workers, there was a presentation on the Women’s Advocate Program, which the Forum welcomed and commented that there’s a company-run program with similar objectives.[1]

The Sezela Women’s Forum acknowledged a need for a strong training program to empower them when facing challenges at the workplace, and in 2014, they proposed an in-depth work on Sexual Harassment and Equality/Equity in the Workplace.

Women Workshop in Darnall (Oct. 22)


Darnall – Women Workers Workshop

Seventeen participants attended a multi-union workshop dealing with Sexual Harassment and Maternity Protection. As happened in Sezela, participants acknowledge having a limited knowledge the former, and welcomed the information from other sugar companies from around the world. While it was reported that mothers are entitled to a cash benefit of 75 percent their salary during the maternity leave of three months, they also said that there was no other cash benefit nor the seasonal employees receive any Maternity benefits.

Meeting Farm Women Workers at Harden Heights, UCL (Oct. 24)


Some participants at the Harden Heights meeting with women farm workers.

About fifty farm women workers met with the IUF Sugar and FAWU for an open exchange of working and living conditions, a discussion on Sexual Harassment and their negotiations in 2014. Set up by FAWU regional organiser in the Dalton area, the participants raised several issues including, among others, adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in relation to the job (e.g. dusk masks are used instead of masks needed when handling chemical products; rubber gloves instead of long leather gloves when cutting cane); availability of drinking water in the fields (they provide and carry their own); skin protection while working outdoors and under the sun (the use of ibomvu or red sand); and lighter jobs during their menstrual cycle days. Also relevant was a short visit to their sleeping quarters. For instance, three women share a small room, which holds their beds and storage space; and individual cooking is done in a communal kitchen, using firewood. Women’s living quarters are next to the men’s quarters, and, it was reported, Sexual Harassment is common.

A young woman, working in the application of chemical products, told us that she had recently obtained a driver’s licence and had looked to apply for a job as a driver. She said that her request was not even considered because such jobs were “a man’s job.”

Visit to the Durban refinery (Oct. 23)

A visit to Tongaat’s refinery in Durban showed a strong OHS program in place, which ranges from a strict control on alcohol abuse, as workers are tested with a breathalyser at entrance (as the delegation was); working shoes, hard helmets and overall/dusk coats are mandatory and delivered to workers, while in a key move, laundry (of overalls) is done by the company, meaning that workers don’t take their work-cloths home. Among other positive OHS initiatives observed were: the washing of hands on entry to the packaging section and the use of other equipment such as  hair nets, dust coats, ear plugs and goggles in several areas; the confiscation of dangerous tools and/or instruments (displayed at entrance); clear OHS signs and messages; the availability of lockers and changing rooms, washrooms and canteen.

In a post-visit exchange with management, the delegation mentioned the number of women working in the refinery, several of them being drivers. Management spoke of their efforts to hire more women, and their efforts to reach out to the some schools in the area by inviting kids to visit and to attend presentations on possible future jobs. (The visit to the refinery happened before the meeting at Harden Heights at UCL, but the link to the young woman’s failed attempt at trying to apply for a driver’s job in the latter was evident.)

Completing the IUF Sugar program was a exchange with the secretariat of the Sugar Bargaining Council, and an evaluation and planning meeting at FAWU’s KwaZulu Natal provincial office. From the later, there was an agreement to readjust the 2014 objectives of the IUF Sugar project, by focusing on women workers. It is also expected that FAWU will allocate resources to activities related to the IUF Sugar project and take full advantages of the synergies that will be created.

[1] In August 2013, the Canadian Auto Workers joined the Communication, Energy and Paper Workers Union (CEP) to form Unifor. Unifor is Canada’s largest private-sector union. For more information on the CAW Women’s Advocate program see:

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    • Nelisiwe Nxumalo on November 21, 2013 at 4:01 am

    We are very grateful to have such an opportunity as women and hope we will all take it with both hands. As Sezela woman we would like to thank you, i.e CAW, CLC Jorge Chullen and your colleagues, this really means a lot to us as woman.

    • Miriam Wanyama on November 28, 2013 at 4:46 am

    VIVA COMRADES VIVA!! Empowering one Woman is Empowering the whole Nation.It began so small but look at where you are now.Hopefully you gonna take up the whole Africa and together with us we can!! Let us keep the fire of IUF burning.Many thanx to Jorge Chullen-The Global Sugar co0ordinator and the CAW

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