South Africa: Farmworkers Minimum Wage Review Edges Towards an End As Department of Labour Concludes Public Hearings

press release

Photo: Nardus Engelbrecht/SAPA
Protesters in the main road of Swellendam demonstrate for better wages on Thursday, 15 November 2012 during widespread unrest among farm workers that started in De Doorns in the Western Cape and since spread to other towns in the area.

The Department of Labour's (DoL) national public hearings to review farmworkes minimum wages have come to an end, and the department will consolidate inputs and prepare a report for the Employment Conditions Commission (ECC) for consideration.

The curtain on the sometime tension-filled hearings came down yesterday evening, 13 December at Barkly East in the Eastern Cape and at Bronkhorstpruit in Gauteng, when the department held parallel sessions with both the farmers and farmworkers, at the respective venues.

Titus Mtsweni, acting director of labour standards said this week the Employment Conditions Commission was expected to meet in January 2013 and consider all inputs and advice Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant on the proposed new minimum wage review.

The ECC is a structure composed of government representatives, labour unions, and employers - that advises Labour Minister on wages and other conditions of employment in the vulnerable sectors including agriculture/farming sector.

Mtsweni said despite this week's "last act", he did not rule out a further public hearings in De Doorns, the epicentre of the farmworkers industrial action, and other areas where there was still a need to conduct further public hearings.

The public hearings were part of a consultative process brought forward by the department to review the farmworkers' minimum wages, to help quell the deteriorating situation in the farms that was threatening the agriculture sector in South Africa.

In terms of Basic Conditions of Emploment Act (BCEA), it is stipulated that the provisions of sectoral determination (SD) remain binding until they are amended or suspended by a new or amended SD, or they are cancelled or suspended by the Labour Minister. The current determination ends in February.

Department of Labour (DoL) Chief Director: Collective Bargaining Thembinkosi Mkalipi told the public hearing in Barkly East, Eastern Cape that through the process the department sought to gather all relevant inputs that would help the ECC to "strike a balance between opposing view".

Mkalipi cautioned that sectoral determination could not be reviewed through industrial action, as this was not consistent with the law that govern worker's minimum wage review.

Meanwhile, the Eastern Cape's branch of Cosatu and the Food and Allied Workers Union threw their weight behind the workers in their demand for a minimum wage of R150.00 per day, arguing that workers were working under unbearable conditions and deserved to be rewarded as such.

Agri Eastern Cape called for a scientific study to assess the broader remuneration of farmworkers including their perks. The farmer's union, said it did not have a mandate to decide on the levels of remunerations for individual farmers. The union said the current hostile environment was not conducive to a lasting solution, and appealed for ECC to be given a chance to complete its work.

The Eastern Cape based union argued that local farmers were not subsidised by government and had to compete with subsidised imported produce.

The Department of Labour has also hosted the month-long farmworker public hearings in Worcester, Western Cape; Boston, KwaZulu-Natal; Makhado, Limpopo; Ottosdal, North West; Bothaville, Free State; Keimoes, Northern Cape and KwaMhlushwa in Mpumalanga.

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