Farm job strategy needed: DA

By Drum Digital
08 March 2013

A strategy is needed to curb job losses in the agricultural sector, the Democratic Alliance said on Friday.

It said this was underlined by the fact that farmers in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and the Western Cape were looking to employ foreign workers.

Thousands of farmers had applied to the labour department to employ foreigners in the wake of the introduction of a new minimum wage for farmworkers from March 1.

"These applications should serve as a forewarning of the possible consequences if no plan is put in place to address job shedding in the agricultural sector," said DA agriculture spokeswoman Annette Steyn.

"The DA reiterates its call for [Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries] Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson to urgently present her plan to mitigate against job losses in the agriculture sector."

Steyn said neither the minister nor any department officials had raised the issue of potential job losses at any agriculture portfolio committee briefings since labour unrest began last year.

With agriculture's contribution to national GDP declining from 2.5 to 1.9 percent between 2008 and 2011, urgent measures were needed to ensure the continued viability and growth of the sector.

Failure to do so would jeopardise the livelihoods of countless families, she said.

Labour department spokesman Page Boikanyo said a total of 6487 applications to employ foreign labour had been received by the department, with 3369 of these applications coming from Mpumalanga.

Employing foreign nationals did not exempt farmers from paying the minimum wage of R105 a day, he emphasised.

"The labour law does not consider whether you are from Zimbabwe, Swaziland, or elsewhere. What is important to us is that you are a worker and you are protected in terms of the labour laws of this country," said Boikanyo.

The department received 918 applications from farmers who wanted to be exempted from the new R105 a day minimum wage.

The applications to employ foreign nationals came after the department was informed by Agri SA that farmers in Limpopo and Mpumalanga intended to retrench about 2000 workers.

The 918 applications for exemption from the minimum wage affected a total of 74,603 workers.

On February 4, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant set a new minimum wage for farmworkers, after a long and extensive consultation process with stakeholders.

This followed a strike by farmworkers last year, who demanded that the minimum daily wage be increased from R69 to R150, and that a cohesive land reform programme be implemented.

The strike, which was accompanied by violence and damage to property in areas of the Western Cape, was suspended in December and resolved in January.

-by Sapa

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