Farm deal puts jobs at risk

2222356 INLSA Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant

Cobus Coetzee

THE agriculture sector has bucked the national trend and is creating jobs, but farmers say they doubt if this can be sustained with the new minimum wage deal.

Last year, this sector, as opposed to other major sectors like mining, trade and manufacturing, created over 55 000 more jobs, the latest statistics show.

Agriculture turned the corner last year after it shed jobs over the previous four years, Statistics South Africa’s (StatsSA) labour survey for October to December 2012 showed.

Statistician-general Pali Lehohla released the report in Pretoria yesterday.

Farming’s labour force decreased from 764 000 in December 2008 to 630 000 in 2011, before it then increased to 685 000 in 2012.

In the Western Cap, the agriculture sector employs 123 000 people – the most since 2010.

Wes Cape Agriculture CEO Carl Opperman said yesterday it was unthinkable that this growth would be sustained in the coming year after the minimum wage was increased to R105 per day.

The number of workers in the agriculture sector increased by 37.2 percent, in the Western Cape between December 2011 and 2012.

“We saw good harvests over the past year and farmers actively went out to employ more workers in 2012, but I doubt we will see the same trend this year,” said Opperman.

Opperman said he was inundated with calls from farmers on Tuesday after people realised what the implication of the increased labour cost would be for their farming operations.

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant released the new minimum wage, effective from March 1, on Monday in Pretoria. Farmers are compelled by law to pay a farmworker R105 for a nine-hour day, R525 for a week or R2 274.82 for a month as a minimum wage.

Opperman said the 50 percent increase of the daily minimum wage from R69 to R105 would have a dramatic effect on the farming sector’s ability to create jobs. “A fruit farmer from Montagu called me this morning to say he just borrowed R300 000 from the bank to put in a new orchard. With the new minimum wage, he now has to borrow another R400 000 just to pay his wages and the bank doesn’t want to give him that. He will have to look for another solution or scale down,” said Opperman.

StatsSA deputy director-general Kefiloe Masiteng said the statistics clearly showed agriculture was one of the few industries creating jobs.

“It is a very important job creator in that sense,” she said.

Opperman said several farmers in the Western Cape were looking to replace food-producing crops like onions, fruits and other with feed for livestock because its production was less labour intensive.

Labour analyst at Adcorp Loane Sharp doubts whether StatsSA’s figures are correct and said he believed there were no increase in people employed in the agriculture sector over the past year.

“We have seen a dramatic decline in the number of workers employed by the sector and the new minimum wage would have only worsened the blow. In 1994 over two million people were employed by the sector now there is just over 600 000,” he said.

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