Covid-19: WFP anticipates retrenchment of permanent workers in farming industry

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Workers at a Vegetable Farm.
Workers at a Vegetable Farm.
Mpumelelo Buthelezi, City Press
  • The co-director of the Women on Farms Project (WFP), Carmen Louw, says it is anticipating an increase in unemployment in the farming sector. 
  • Louw was speaking during a webinar on Thursday afternoon. 
  • She said the WFP was expecting the retrenchment of permanent staffers in the farming industry due to Covid-19. 

Women on Farms Project (WFP) co-director Carmen Louw says due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is anticipating an increase in unemployment in the farming industry.

Louw, who participated in a webinar on Thursday afternoon, was speaking about the challenges women are facing in the farming sector, including the wine industry.  

The WFP supports women in commercial agriculture.  

She said women were "disproportionately affected by the consequences of Covid-19".

The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and National Research Foundation's (NRF) Centre of Excellence in Food Security kicked off a series of 2020 Women's Month webinars on issues of food security in South Africa, particularly in the context of the pandemic.

During the webinar, Louw said women working in farms continued to bear the brunt of unfair labour practices, adding the industry was "historically gender biased" because in most cases, men were permanent workers. 

ALSO READ | Millions have lost their jobs during the lockdown, impacting social welfare and food poverty

She added when lockdown started in March, some women in the industry had lost their jobs.  

"[Department of] labour centres were closed during Level 5 or 4 [and] they could not access their unemployment benefits, leaving them without any income for a number of months and even when the labour centres opened, it took them on average 40 to 45 days to access their first benefit." 

Louw said unemployment also contributed to an increase in gender-based violence because women were "not able to provide food and that often opens them up to abuse from partners in the house".

She added during the Level 5 lockdown, there were restrictions on exports, which affected the wine industry.  

And now, the liquor ban would continue to have an impact on the sector and the women who worked in it, said Louw.

The sale of liquor was first banned when South Africa went into a hard lockdown on 26 March. The ban was eventually lifted on 1 June when the country moved to Level 3. 

However, President Cyril Ramaphosa said to "conserve hospital capacity", the National Coronavirus Command Council and Cabinet had decided the sale, dispensing and distribution of alcohol "will be suspended with immediate effect", News24 previously reported.

Louw said: "We foresee and anticipate the retrenchment of permanent workers, and great uncertainty for seasonal workers. 

"We anticipate an increase in unemployment, people are not working on farms, there will be an increase in evictions… Increase in hunger, also increase in women dependent on their male partners. [We] also anticipate an increase in social crimes because of a lack of money and food."

She added women wanted the introduction of a basic income grant, adding the R350 unemployment social relief grant was a start but not enough.

They also wanted the government to prioritise women's access to land so they could grow their own businesses, Louw said.

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