Wage rise forcing job losses

2013-02-06 00:00

THE government’s decision to increase the minimum wage of farm workers by 52% to R105 per day has already caused job losses on farms.

In Limpopo, more than a 1 000 farm workers were told that the farmers for whom they worked, could no longer afford to employ them.

Fritz Ahrens, a litchi farmer in Levubu, said 25 farmers in the district who employed 1 700 people, will have to let go of 670 people.

More than 700 farm workers in Magoebaskloof and the George’s valley received the same news, said Dr Theo de Jager, deputy president of AgriSA.

A total of 28 farmers met on Monday night to discuss the implications of the new minimum wage on their staff.

“We looked at the situation calmly and decided that we want to try and organise the workers, who will not be declared redundant, in small businesses who could rent out their services to the farmers.

“They can offer their services as planting or harvest teams to farmers,” said De Jager, who also farms in the area.

Braam van der Merwe, a mango and green bean farmer from Hoedspruit, yesterday said he plans to lay off half his work force at the end of the month.

He said his workers were mostly unschooled and illiterate. “These people cannot go and work at the Wimpy in town if they cannot find work on the farm. The government will bear the consequences; these people will go hungry.”

Musa Zondi, spokesperson for Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant, who announced the new minimum wage on Monday, told sister paper Beeld the farmers should not act hastily or lay off workers unnecessarily.

Cosatu’s provincial secretary in the Western Cape, Tony Ehrenreich, will be watching to see if farmers lay of workers unnecessarily.

The farm union TLU SA demanded that the new minimum wage — which is applicable on both permanent and temporary workers — must be put on hold.

TLU SA president Louis Meintjes, said the increase of more than 50% exceeded any measure of fairness and wasn’t reasonable.

Annette Steyn, the DA’s shadow minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, said Tina Joemat-Pettersson, the minister of agriculture, must explain to the parliamentary portfolio committee how she will soften the twin blows of job losses on farms with accompanying higher food prices.

Stephen Hoffman, chair of TLU SA in Limpopo, warned consumers would, by the end of May and June, experience shortages, especially vegetables. He said many farmers will not be planting vegetables because it was such a labour-intensive crop which could become unprofitable at higher wages.

He said the new minimum wage of R105 per day amounted to “economic suicide” for farmers.

Apart from laying off workers, many will have to sell their farms or stop farming.

De Jager said he was at a meeting with emerging farmers in the Trichardtsdal and Harmonie areas near Tzaneen who were also deeply unhappy with the higher wages.

“Many of the farmers who only got on their feet recently have signed delivery contracts with Massmart and other companies.

“To survive, they must now renegotiate these contracts for better prices,” De Jager said.

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