Mlondi Radebe and Sapa

2013-03-04 00:00

WHILE some farmers in KwaZulu-Natal have resolved to reduce the hours their employees work, others are retrenching workers as the minimum wage in the farming industry starts to bite into budgets.

The minimum wage for farm workers took effect from March 1.

Kwanalu president Brian Aitken said in order to comply with the minimum wage of R105 a day, some farmers have retrenched some of their temporary staff.

Provincial Cosatu secretary Zet Luzipho, said they condemned the retrenchment of farm workers.

“If they had the interest of the province at heart, they should have applied for relief from the department first. They did not even give it three months to see that they won’t cope.”

Department of Labour spokesperson Page Boikanyo urged farmers to comply with the new wage of R105 a day, up from R69 a day. “We believe most farmers will comply, but we emphasise that those who are unable to pay should apply for relief.

“Government has this mechanism in place to provide support for those who really can’t afford it,” he said.

Boikanyo said the department’s focus was to process the applications it received from farmers, but said it was unclear how long this process would take. He could not immediately say how many applications for assistance the department had received. Farmers seeking relief would need to submit their books to the department to prove their financial distress. Earlier this month, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant announced the new minimum wages for farm workers.

At the time, the Transvaal Agricultural Union (TAU SA) said farmers had no choice, but to retrench workers and cut costs to survive.

The farmers’ union said at least 2 000 farm workers had been notified of their impending retrenchment, mostly in Limpopo. General manager Bennie van Zyl said most of the retrenchments were due to farmers mechanising their operations.

He warned that the effect the minimum wage increase would have on consumers and the country’s food security was “unimaginable“.

Farm workers went on strike last year, demanding 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 some areas of the Western Cape, was briefly suspended in December and resolved in January.

At the time, the Congress of SA Trade Unions warned it could

co-ordinate “the mother of all strikes against bad farmers” later in the year.

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