A number of farming organisations have filed boxes of exemption applications on behalf of farmers and the Department of Labour will only know after opening these boxes how many farmers have applied for exemption from the increase in the minimum wage for the sector to R105 a day from R65.
In terms of section 50 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, the minister of labour has the authority to grant an exemption on the grounds of affordability.
Yesterday, in a move that seemed designed to minimise the adverse affect on employment, the department urged farmers to apply for exemption ahead of the Friday deadline.
Farmers who do apply for exemption must provide reasons for not being able to pay the increased minimum wage, such as audited financial statements and must also provide proof that they have consulted with the employees.
If there is no union representation on the farm, then the farmer must submit a sworn affidavit to that effect.
Farmers’ organisations have expressed concern at the level of information required and the department’s ability to process the information.
Porchia Adams, the spokeswoman for Agri Wes-Cape, noted that although it was peak season for the fruit and wine industries in the Western Cape and the March 1 deadline was “very tight”, a number of farmers were applying for exemption. She said they had not seen any large-scale retrenchments, but rather a reduction in the use of seasonal workers.
Adams said the full impact of the increase would be seen over the next few months.
Page Boikanyo, the spokesman for the department, said the requirements for an exemption were detailed because exemptions could not be granted lightly. He said that once the department had analysed the reasons for an exemption request, it would see what it could do to assist the farmers. “The task of government is to create a conducive environment for business to survive and create jobs.”
Boikanyo said he believed most farmers would try their best to pay the increased minimum wage. “We want to assist farmers who have challenges and do not want to create a confrontational situation.”
In a press statement issued yesterday, the Department of Labour in Limpopo, where there has been tension between workers and farmers in response to the pending increase, called for calm.
Johannes Mokou of the provincial department urged farmers “who face challenges to consider applying for an exemption rather than opting to retrench employees, as this will add to the already high rate of unemployment in the county”.
He said representatives of the department were travelling across the country consulting with employers and employees in a bid to provide clarity on the matter.
Mokou said while the farmer’s exemption application was being considered they were allowed to pay the previous minimum wage. However, if the application was not successful the farmer would have to make up the shortfall.
Business Watch, page 18