The Congress of South African Trade Unions is dismayed at the blackmail tactics of the some farm employers in an effort to maintain poverty wages and slave labour conditions on the farms.
It is reported that some farm employers, mostly in Limpopo and Mpumalanga, intend to retrench at least 2,000 farm workers. This follows the Government’s announcement of an increase in the minimum wage for farm workers to the still very low level of R105 a nine-hour working day. That is R11.66 per hour, R525 a week or R2274.82 a month.
If reports are true, some employers would retrench more than half their workers rather than pay a basic minimum wage, it proves that there are still farmers who are living in the dark days of apartheid.
They are entitled to apply for an exemption from the minimum wage, if they can prove to the Department of Labour that they have genuine cash-flow problems, but instead are opting for scaremongering threats of retrenchments.
COSATU fully agrees with the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) that these farmers have made “a knee-jerk reaction” to the new minimums by “engaging in a vicious backlash of victimization... unfair dismissals, illegal evictions and illegitimate deportations.”
For decades farm workers and dwellers have been treated little better than slaves – paid poverty wages for working long and unsocial hours, forced to live in squalid houses, with no security of tenure. If they lost their job, they would often lose the house as well and families could find themselves on the streets. In the worst cases workers have been assaulted or even murdered.
The federation accepts that many other farmers have moved on; they abide by the labour laws and some are already paying more than the minimum wage. We are always willing to sit down and talk to such employers and negotiate better wages and conditions.
COSATU is however concerned at the comment attributed to Deputy Agriculture Minister, Pieter Mulder, that a blanket wage increase for farm workers would not be financially viable, as not all farm owners would be able to afford the new minimum wage. “I think it’s a mistake,” he is quoted as saying, “to determine it for the whole sector. Some farmers in De Doorns can certainly pay it, but some of the poorer farmers in Limpopo and even upcoming commercial black farmers can’t afford to pay it.”
He also must also be aware that farmers can apply for exemption from the minimum wage. They do not have to go for retrenchments and evictions. But these have to be the exceptions to the rule. Others must comply with the minimum wage announced by the Deputy Minister’s government.
COSATU urges all farm workers, especially those whose jobs are under threat, to join FAWU and get the might of the trade union movement behind the fight to save their jobs and resist the employers’ blackmail. The union has agreed to engage those farm owners planning retrenchment and hopefully reaching understanding.
Should no agreement be reached however, the federation pledge its support for FAWU’s plan for a local consumer and international retailer boycott of the guilty farmers’ products.