Farmers start lay-offs

2013-03-14 00:00

FARMERS have begun retrenching workers as they try to keep their businesses afloat in light of the new minimum wage structure, farmers’ union Agri SA said yesterday.

Deputy executive director Johan Pienaar said that the union was not sure of the exact numbers of farms affected and workers retrenched.

“We understand that the areas that are most affected and where the farmers have begun retrenching are Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces … We cannot say where the retrenchments will spread throughout the country, but the labour-intensive farms will be affected,” he said.

The union yesterday met its affiliates to explain their rights and responsibilities so they do not transgress the law.

The Witness reported last week that 918 farmers had applied to be exempted from paying the minimum wage, which went up from R69 a day to R105 for a nine-hour day, or R2 274,82 a month, in February.

Forty-nine of those farmers are reportedly in KwaZulu-Natal and at least 2 956 workers are likely to be affected.

Pienaar said that although the farmers had applied for exemption, they were still uneasy because they were not sure of the criteria that the department would use to select who was and was not granted the exemption.

He conceded more jobs could be lost.

“At this stage we have adopted a wait-and-see attitude. The situation right now is that the farmers might have to decide between retrenching or going bankrupt.

“Obviously, if it comes to that, they will have to retrench.”

Page Boikanyo, spokesperson for the Department of Labour, said the department had been informed that there were some farmers who wanted to retrench.

“We also know that there are some farmers who want to bring in foreign labour. We will not allow South African labour to be replaced by foreign labour.”

Earlier this month, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies dismissed suggestions that the “very modest, moderate R105” daily wage would prompt large-scale mechanisation and job losses.

Davies said local farmers were losing “an unacceptably large percentage” to foreign retailers. He cited a figure of 45% in the case of table grapes and said the government was prepared to help farmers position themselves more lucratively in the market and to make their farms sustainable.

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