‘Minimum wage should end poverty’

Paarl, Western Cape - The farmworkers' minimum wage under review has to eradicate poverty and reduce inequalities, the labour department heard during a public hearing on Tuesday evening.

Al Jama-Ah political party leader Ganief Hendricks said this was a requirement of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, but had not been fulfilled when the minimum wage was last determined in 2012.

“The department of labour did not carry out its mandate and rather supported the farmers who pleaded poverty,” he told the packed Huguenot Hall in Paarl, where farmworkers gathered to voice their opinions on the review of the sector's minimum wage.

Members of the Building and Allied Workers' Union of SA, Sikhule Sonke and other organisations, were in attendance.

“It is our view that the (employment conditions) commission failed the country by recommending slave wages to Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant.”

Hendricks suggested that in addition to the wage demand, workers be given a once-off grant in the form of land or cash, to help with housing. He said each farm should set aside a portion of land for housing and give title deeds to workers.

Boland religious leader Marthinus Gouws said the workers' daily wage demand was too low for survival.

“We are sick and tired of the nonsense of this government. R150 a day is total peanut-butter-and-jelly money,” he said.

“We want President Jacob Zuma and Oliphant to hear what we say. R150 is not enough,” he said, to resounding cheers and applause.

The Workers Against Regression (War) trade union said it wanted workers to earn a minimum of R200 a day, and no less than R4000 a month.

War president Kevin Jooste said individuals should get three weeks paid leave a year and not work more than 45 hours a week. He wanted the minister to establish a provident fund for farmworkers, with farmers contributing 12 percent and the employee five percent.

Workers should get an annual bonus, sowing and harvesting season bonuses, and free water and electricity.

Many farmworkers told the department's acting director of labour standards, Titus Mtsweni, that their daily wage of between R69 and R80 was not enough to cover basic costs.

One woman said she struggled to put food on the table and pay creche fees for her children.

Quite a few workers said they still lived under apartheid-like conditions, working for hours on end without a break to eat.

Mtsweni said the department was hosting an extra set of hearings in the province this week to help him compile a report for the employment conditions commission. He would make sure these recommendations were in the report.

Gouws questioned why the proceedings were not being recorded electronically.

“How can you come to this hearing and... There is no recording? Only the SABC people are recording here,” he asked Mtsweni.

“This labour department can't take people for granted. Don't use people on the farms as slaves.”

Mtsweni tried to calm the crowd, saying he was writing everything down.

“South Africa is a very nice country, there is a democracy here,” he said to the heckling group.

“If you feel the minister did not take everything into consideration, you can take the minister to court.”

The first hearing took place in Grabouw on Monday night. Further hearings were scheduled for towns including De Doorns, Robertson, Oudtshoorn, and Vredendal, with venues yet to be finalised.

The strike, by seasonal workers to have their minimum R69 daily wage increased to R150, resumed on Wednesday. It began on August 27 last year and was called off on December 4. - Sapa