More than 15 500 farmworkers in the Western Cape have not received a new daily minimum wage – up from R69 to R105 after a bitter strike – because the government has exempted their employers.
About a quarter of the 603 farmers in the Western Cape who applied for exemption from paying R105 a day were granted the relief until the end of January.
This is affecting 15 620 workers, the labour department’s assistant director for employment standards, Kekulu Padi, said yesterday.
In the Western Cape 162 farm owners were exempted from paying the minimum wage, while 282 applications were rejected and 159 are still pending.
Food and Allied Workers’ Union provincial secretary Mlungiseleli Ndongeni said the union was disappointed that the government had granted exemption to so many farmers.
“After workers sacrificed so much this year (by striking) we still have to deal with these exploitative wages,” he said.
But Agri Wes-Cape chief executive Carl Opperman said they were surprised that the department received only 603 applications from the Western Cape.
“On our count, 1 000 farmers from the province sent in applications for exemptions.”
In March the department asked farmers to apply if they could not afford the new minimum wage.
In February Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant increased the daily minimum wage from R69 to R105 after the Employment Conditions Commission (ECC) recommended the 29 percent increase.
Farmworkers held strikes across the Boland between November and January to demand an increase to R150 from the daily minimum of R69.
At the time of the increase most farmers paid R84.90 a day, according to the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy at Stellenbosch and Pretoria universities.
The department received 1 996 applications from across the country and granted exemption to 18 percent, or 369 farmers, and refused two-thirds (1 199), while 428 are pending.
Farmers had to submit their financial statements to the department as proof to qualify for exemption.
In KwaZulu-Natal, 75 percent (106 out of 141 applications) were rejected, the highest of all provinces.
Padi said some were automatically rejected because they did not comply with the requirements even after letters were sent to them, while others were refused because their financial statements showed they could afford it.
In the Western Cape 47 percent of all applications were refused.
Hex Valley Table Grapes chairman Michael Laubscher said De Doorns farmers felt the application process was chaotic.
“Many farmers just gave up with their applications. In some cases the department lost application forms while in other cases farmers were asked three times to send the same supporting documents.”
He had been granted exemption but had had to increase the daily minimum wage on his farm to R95 on September 1 and would have to raise it to R105 in February. - The Cape Times