The commercial agricultural bodies that claim farmworkers from neighbouring countries are more productive than their South African counterparts failed yesterday to provide empirical and substantive evidence.
Bennie van Zyl, the chief executive of TAU SA, was reluctant to be specific as to why South African workers were considered lazy compared with their neighbours.
“I keep on saying you cannot generalise on this. It is very difficult for a farmer to operate a profitable business in South Africa today,” he said.
“It is a fact that foreign farmworkers are generally more productive. The farmers have said so at our meetings. But the employment has to be done legally.”
This year farmers have lodged 6 500 applications to employ foreign workers, most coming after the daily minimum wage for farmworkers was increased from R69 to R105.
Theo de Jager, the deputy president of Agri SA, said foreigners from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi were used mainly on farms near the South African borders.
“They are much stronger and younger than South African workers. Zimbabweans, in particular, have good administrative work experience,” he said.
He said one foreign worker on a farm had won an award for his productivity last year.
“He was earning no less than R400 a day because of the hard work he put into his volumes. Last October in Limpopo, there were not enough local farmworkers to harvest the citrus,” De Jager said.
He said farmers engaging foreign farmworkers had to pay them the minimum wage of R105 a day. These farmers also said seasonal workers could earn more money because they were paid by volume.
De Jager said the corporate permits for foreign farmworkers took months to be issued.
The Department of Labour said corporate permits were issued by the Department of Home Affairs after consultation.
Last week it said it had received 918 applications from farmers for exemption from the new minimum wage because they could not afford it. This affected 74 603 employees.
The department received 2 838 applications to employ foreign labour in January and 3 649 in February from farmers in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Western Cape.
“When processing the applications for exemptions, the department will also take the applications for foreign labour employment into account in ensuring that South African labour is not replaced with foreign labour.
“Furthermore, the department intends to engage with those farmers applying for foreign labour to discuss the possibility of absorbing workers from those farmers intending to retrench,” it said.
Meanwhile, Adcorp said yesterday that employment was essentially static in February, rising at an annualised rate of 0.1 percent, while labour productivity hit a 50-year low.
It said high-skilled jobs remained the overwhelming source of employment creation, with 12 000 jobs created last month. Loane Sharp, a labour economist at Adcorp, said the wage share had fallen to the lowest level in 50 years.