21 January 2013

South Africa: ECC to Consider Inputs On Farmworkers' Wages

Photo: Mujahid Safodien/IRIN
A tractor driving through farmlands.

Pretoria — The Employment Conditions Commission (ECC) will on Thursday meet to consider inputs collected from the nationwide public hearings on farmworkers' wages.

The Department of Labour on Monday said the inputs would be used to set a new minimum wage determination for farmworkers.

The department's acting Director of Labour Standards, Titus Mtsweni, said following the conclusion of the week-long special farmworkers public hearings, held in the epicentre of the industrial action in the Western Cape, a report will be submitted to Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant, who will then consider the recommendations of the ECC.

Mtsweni said barring any unexpected eventualities, the minister is expected to pronounce on the new minimum wage determination early in February.

He said once Oliphant makes a pronouncement on the new determination, the new wage adjustments will be gazetted the following day to effect a legislative stamp of approval.

The ECC is an advisory body comprising government representatives, labour unions and employers. It advises the Labour Minister on wages and other conditions of employment in the vulnerable sectors, including agriculture/farming.

The Labour Department concluded week-long public hearings on Sunday in Vredendal in Western Cape.

Similar public hearings 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 the department last year following a bitter farmworkers' industrial action.

In November and December, the department embarked on a nationwide public hearing campaign in areas such as Worcester in the Western Cape, Boston in KwaZulu-Natal, Makhado in Limpopo, Ottosdal in the North West, Bothaville in the Free State, Keimoes in the Northern Cape and KwaMhlushwa in Mpumalanga.

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 new year.

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

On their part, farmers argue that they cannot afford high wages as they are battling to keep their business afloat 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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