27 November 2012

South Africa: Media Statement By the Minister of Labour, Mrs Mildred Oliphant, MP On the Government's Intervention for Farmworkers

press release

In the last few months, South Africa has had to contend with a wave of strikes - legal and illegal in different sectors. Sadly, one of the defining features of these strikes has been the unacceptable and unjustifiable level of violence.

Let me take this opportunity first and foremost and condemn violence in any industrial action. Violence has no place in our society whose foundation as a democracy is based on intensive social dialogue. Nothing yet has proven to work better than the ability to negotiate and reach consensus.

Besides, violence helps neither the strikers nor the employer. Workers would still have to go back to the same workplace they thrash. In fact, even the legitimacy of the strike is called into question when violence is involved.

The latest industrial action involving farmworkers in the Hex River valley/De Doorns has also seen unprecedented and unacceptable levels of violence which sadly led to the death of one worker. The department recognises that farmworkers are among some of the most vulnerable workers and it is our duty to support them as much as we can. This is where the issue of sectoral determination comes in.

The initial Sectoral Determination for the Farm Worker Sector was promulgated in December 2002 in Government Gazette R 24114 as sectoral determination no 8: Farm Worker Sector. This sectoral determination was repealed in 2006 after farmers approached the Minister raising concerns relating to some of the conditions of employment in the sectoral determination. The revised sectoral determination was therefore promulgated as Sectoral Determination 13: Farm Worker Sector, South Africa.

The wage regime in the Sectoral Determination is promulgated for a three year period and gets reviewed on the third year to announce new conditions of employment including minimum wages to apply in the fourth year. The current determination was reviewed in March 2012 and would have been in place until end of February 2015.

What has happened until thus far?

On the 10 November 2012, the Minister of Agriculture convened a meeting in Cape Town with the parties involved in De Doorns situation. This was as a result of failure by the parties to negotiate and reach a settlement on November 9 2012. This meeting was conciliated by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). In the meeting labour representatives tabled their demands which included the daily rate of R150. Business indicated that they did not have mandate to respond to the demand related to wages as the sectoral determination had been recently reviewed. Furthermore they indicated that the situation had nothing to do with the wages in the agricultural sector but due to the external influences. Business further indicated that wage demands should be negotiated at the farm level between the employer and the employee.

After a lengthy process of persuading employers to engage and negotiate, the meeting could not proceed as employers still maintained their position that they do not have mandate to negotiate on wage related issues.

On the 12 November 2012, the Minister of Agriculture convened an urgent meeting with employers in Pretoria again in an attempt to persuade them to be open for negotiations. Again business maintained their position that they do not have mandate to engage on the wage increase talks. Furthermore during the meeting business indicated that the situation in De Doorns has normalised and farm workers have gone back to work and further that farmers and farmworkers are negotiating at the farm level. The meeting was therefore concluded on the basis that farmers indicated the situation is back to normal.

In the same week of the meeting with farmers, strikes continued in the De Doorns and the Minister of Agriculture persuaded farmworkers to go back to work and that the Department of Labour will review the sectoral determination before the 4th December 2012. Workers therefore went back to work on the basis of the statement by the Minister of Agriculture.

On November 14 2012, the department met Cosatu and other unions organising farm workers in the De Doorns area to explain the process of reviewing the sectoral determination. The department further indicated to the trade unions that it would not be possible to promulgate the revised determination by the 4th of December 2012. Furthermore it was also indicated to them that the Acting Minister will be publishing two notices in relation to the sectoral determination.

On the 15th of November 2012, the then acting Minister duly approved two notices for publication in the government gazette. The first notice announced the intention to cancel the sectoral determination. Interested parties were given 15 days to submit written inputs.

The second notice announced the review of minimum wages in the sectoral determination, and again parties were given 15 days to submit written inputs. Subsequent to the publication of the two notices, we met with AGRI-SA to initiate a process which will attempt to resolve the situation. An agreement in terms of commencing with negotiations was reached on the 16th of November and the date of the first meeting was agreed to for the 22nd of November 2012 in Cape Town.

The first meeting facilitated by the CCMA took place on the 22nd wherein both parties presented their demands. The meeting agreed that the issues raised should be categorised under short term and long term issues. Parties further agreed that a small team comprising two representatives from each side should be appointed to map out the process on how the issues raised will be dealt with.

The two aside meeting took place on 24 November 2012 where representatives agreed that an academic institution would be approached to provide research on the economic situation in the agricultural sector to inform the negotiations. The parties were due to meet and discuss with the chosen academic institution today (Tuesday 27) with negotiations set to resume on Thursday November 29.

Also, the parties agreed to look at the issue of disciplinary action, dismissals, intimidation and evictions as a result of the strike. In addition, the two aside meeting also indicated a need to engage as parties in trying to address the situation of the 4th December 2012, the date that had been communicated widely as the deadline for the determination to be finalised.

As indicated, the public hearings are currently taking place as a process towards the reviewing of the sectoral determination. The hearings have been scheduled until the 13th of December 2012 after which a report will be compiled. This report will be forwarded to the Employment Conditions Commission which will then make recommendations advising the Minister on the amendments to the sectoral determination.

I have listed all these actions so that you can understand fully the kind of process involved in dealing with the concerns as a result of the situation in the Western Cape and to avert a replication in other provinces.

I also hope that it is quite clear that the deadline of the 4th of December, 2012 is practically impossible to achieve considering the limitations as per the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) in that the minister can only review the sectoral determination once it has been in place for a period of at least 12 months.

In the last few months, South Africa has had to contend with a wave of strikes - legal and illegal in different sectors. Sadly, one of the defining features of these strikes has been the unacceptable and unjustifiable level of violence.

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