Tough decision awaits farmers: union

Boemfontein - Many Free State farmers are facing tough business decisions before Friday, when the new minimum farmworker wage comes into effect, Free State Agriculture said on Wednesday.

“This includes whether they would still be agriculturalists next year,” the organisation's president Dan Kriek said.

File photo: Ross Jansen. Credit: INLSA

The provincial agricultural body had been meeting farmers since the announcement on February 4 that farmworkers' minimum salary would be pegged at R105 a day, up from R69. It would come into effect on March 1.

“We are getting massive attendance at information meetings, which indicates farmers are genuinely worried about the new development.”

Kriek said the mood at the meetings had initially been despondency and frustration. This had however changed to calm determination to make things work.

“Very few farmers want to retrench farm workers. They are trying not to do so.”

He said farmers supported South African's new development plans.

“Even farmers battling with draught conditions have indicated that South Africa's agriculture needs to develop.”

The labour department said it would to enforce the new wage.

“Labour inspectors... would be expected during their inspections to ensure that the law of the land is upheld,” department spokesman Page Boikanyo said.

The department encouraged farmers unable to afford the new wages to apply for exclusion before Friday.

Kriek said past experiences of farmers with the department's administrative processes had been very negative. He said farmers would have to supply financial statements, in some cases for more than one year.

“It is difficult to motivate people who have had negative experiences in the past,” said Kriek.

However, he said farmers at meetings were given various business options to accommodate the new wage increase within the law.

“The farmers are discussing plans such as decreasing working hours, looking at options of restructuring their business, because they do not want agriculture to suffer.”

Kriek said farmers were genuinely worried about workers that would lose their jobs.

He said the government, the agricultural sector, and labour needed to talk about the future of agriculture and how it fitted in with national development plans.

Kriek said no other sector had had to absorb such a huge wage increase in such as short time.

“Farmers will have to make tough decisions considering other rising costs such as electricity, fuel costs, the lower rand and higher water tariffs,” said Kriek. - Sapa