21 January 2013

South Africa: Department of Labour's Public Hearings End As Spotlight Shifts to Employment Conditions Commission (ECC) in Farmworkers Minimum Wage Determination

press release

Photo: Wikipedia
Vineyard in South Africa's Western Cape

The Employment Conditions Commission (ECC), a body that advises Labour Minister on farmworkers' minimum wage determination is to meet on Thursday (January 24), in a decisive meeting to consider the inputs collated from nationwide farmworkers public hearings, which will be used to set a new minimum wage determination.

Department of Labour's (DoL) Acting Director of Labour Standards, Titus Mtsweni, said following the conclusion of week-long 'special' farmworkers public hearings at the weekend - in the epicentre of the industrial action in Western Cape - after this week's meeting a report would be submitted to Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant, who would consider the recommendations of the ECC.

Mtsweni said barring any unexpected eventualities the Minister was expected to pronounce on the new minimum wage determination early in February. He said once the Minister had pronounced on the new determination, the new wage adjustments would be gazetted in the Government Gazette on the following day to effect a legislative stamp of approval.

The ECC is an advisory body composed of government representatives, labour unions, and employers.

The body advises Labour Minister on wages and other conditions of employment in the vulnerable sectors including agriculture/farming sector.

The Department of Labour sealed week-long public hearings on Sunday (January 20) in Vredendal, Western Cape. Similar public hearings to consider a new minimum wage determination were also held last week in the Paarl, De Doorns, Robertson and Oudshoorn regions.

The extra Western Cape public hearings were a continuation of a consultative process that was initiated by DoL last year following the bitter farmworkers' industrial action. In November and December the department embarked on a nationwide public hearing campaign in areas such as Worcester, Western Cape; Boston, KwaZulu-Natal; Makhado, Limpopo; Ottosdal, North West; Bothaville, Free State; Keimoes, Northern Cape and KwaMhlushwa in Mpumalanga.

Mtsweni said he expects the ECC meeting to be an intensive affair in considering all inputs gathered from all vested parties.

The meeting of ECC will consider matters relating to issues of the new minimum wage; current status of the farming/agriculture sector, different submissions made by stakeholders and conclude with recommendations.

The process currently underway was trigged last year when farmworkers in De Doorns embarked on a strike to have their minimum R69 daily wage increased to R150. The strike was called off on December 4 and it resumed early in the year.

A common theme that emerged in the public hearings from farmworkers and their representative organisations was that workers were being paid "slave wage" and need a "living wage".

On their part, farmers argue that they cannot afford high wages as they are battling to keep their business in the black amid intense competition from highly subsidised imported farm produce, which they say would force them to resort to machinery to replace human capital.

The current minimum wage sectoral determination is binding until the end of February. The new minimum wage stipulation will come into effect on March 1 in terms of Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA).

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