South Africa: Farm Workers Appeal for High Wages As Farmers Warn of Job Losses in Department of Labour Hearings

press release

Farm workers in Boston, KwaZulu-Natal have called for the Department of Labour (DoL) to heighten its enforcement services to ensure farmers comply with labour laws.

The farm workers believe the high produce coupled with returns in the farms do not match their wages. They argue they can no longer afford subsistence with current "slave wages" while their employers thrive. The workers believe that even the proposed wages of R150 a day if approved would not be enough.

Meanwhile, farmers have complained about the onslaught of uncontrolled and highly-subsidised cheap imports that were entering South Africa. Farmers have argued that in the case of an 'unreasonable' high sectoral determination (SD) being approved, they would resort to halving human capital and replace it with machinery.

These were some of the inputs that emerged during the public hearings being hosted by the Department of Labour to review the wages and working conditions of farmworkers. The department had decided to bring forward the consultative process for the review to help quell the deteriorating situation in the farms.

This comes after several hundreds of workers from De Doorns, Western Cape downed tools, embarking on a two-week industrial action. The workers also burnt vineyards and orchards demanding wages of R150 a day.

The inaugural public hearings kicked-off on Thursday in Worcester's, Western Cape for both employers and employees. The hearings will be held in all nine provinces and are aimed at determining the industry's sectoral determination, which sets minimum wages and conditions of employment. They come after several thousand workers from De Doorns downed tools, embarking on a two-week industrial action. The workers, who also burnt vineyards and orchards, are demanding wages of R150 a day.

Titus Mtsweni, acting director of labour standards at Department of Labour said: "we do not want to see another De Doorns". Mtsweni said the process of consultation has so far has proceeded smoothly. He said although attendance at Worcester was a challenge, he said the department plans to return back in the Western Cape, especially in the epicentre of the dispute and neighbouring farms for further consultation.

Mtsweni said to prevent a repeat of what happened in De Doorns spreading into other areas, a task team composed of trade unions and Agri SA has been set-up to resolve matters affecting workers.

The current sectoral determination of farmworkers was amended on 24 February 2012 and it prescribes the following minimum wages which should be used as a benchmark by employers when determining remuneration for employees at R7,71 per hour; R347,10 per week; and R1503,90 per month.

The provisions of sectoral determination traces its history on 1 March 2003. Sectoral determination prescribes the minimum wages, terms and conditions of employment for the farming sector.

In terms of section 56(1) of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), it is stipulated that the provisions of sectoral determination remain binding until they are amended or suspended by a new or amended SD, or they are cancelled or suspended by the Minister.

It is for this reason that two notices were published by the department on 15 November 2012, one indicating the intention to cancel the SD and the other indicating the intention to cancel the SD and the other indicating the reviewing of the current SD.

Factors considered by the ECC in the determination include: ability of employers to carry on their businesses successfully; creation and retention of employment, alleviation of poverty, effect on small business and new enterprises, cost of living, conditions of employment, impact of conditions on Occupational Health and Safety, what impact will this determination have on the sector in regard to employment and job creation.

"We do not want to set unreasonable determination that would lead to closure of farms and retrenchments. We want to arrive at a balance that would be acceptable to all parties," he said.

Mtsweni said the hearings will seek to answer key questions in - regard to ability of employers to afford the high wages and their effects on business. He said workers should use the hearings to provide their input on the wage determination.

He said the public sessions were not a complaints gathering session, advising workers with occupational complaints to visit their local department of labour offices.

After a week break the public hearings will resume again on December 6 at 10am in Makhado Municipal Showground in Limpopo for both employers and employees. The hearings will continue in other provinces and conclude in Gauteng on 13 December 2012.

Farm workers in Boston, KwaZulu-Natal have called for the Department of Labour (DoL) to heighten its enforcement services to ensure farmers comply with labour laws.

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