Wage rise could lose KZN agriculture 30?000 jobs, say experts

2013-02-21 00:00

THE KwaZulu-Natal agriculture sector stands to lose 30 000 jobs over a five-year-period due to the new gazetted wage increases for farm workers, experts in the industry said yesterday.

At a meeting, hosted by Standard Bank’s agricultural division at the Gateway shopping centre in Durban, the experts said hundreds of thousands of jobs would be lost throughout the country, with KZN standing to lose 30 000 in five years.

The experts said the wage increase for farm workers would result in South Africa losing its comparative advantage of being a provider of cheap labour to the agricultural industry.

About 200 people representing farmers, bankers, academics, and agri-businesses were told that the industry is in dire straits and could not prosper in its current position.

Commissioner of the National Planning Commission and dean of agri-sciences at the University of Stellenbosch, Mohammed Karaan, said that over the last 30 years, two- thirds of the country’s labour had been shed, which translated to about 30 000 jobs being lost a year in South Africa since the mid-1970s.

Tony Dube, a Nquthu farmer with 20 000 cattle, said the costs would not match outputs as a result of the regulated minimum wage.

Farm workers went on strike last year, demanding that the minimum daily wage be increased from R69 to R150.

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant announced early this month that the new minimum wage for farm workers would be R105 a day, to be effective from March 1

The industry has thrived on cheap labour since the 1913 Land Act was implemented.

The sector had to accept that jobs could be lost because of the wage increments, said Karaan.

John Purchase, chief executive of the Agricultural Business Chamber, said food price inflation had outstripped commodity price increases, leaving farmers at the margins of lucrative markets.

Labour Ministry spokesperson Musa Zondi said talk about the job losses was misleading information spread by AgriSa.

“It seems they have this information which we have not tested, but again this misses the point.

“The minister said struggling farmers should apply for exemption.

“They would have to provide documentary proof and financials to show and they will be exempted.

“This way, there is no need to lay off people en a masse,” said Zondi.

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