The increased minimum wage for farmworkers to R105 a day was “still not a living wage”, said Cosatu, while Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder warned of “tens of thousands of job losses” among seasonal and temporary workers.
They were responding to the announcement by Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant on Monday that the sectoral determination for farmworkers would increase by R36 to R105 a day for those working nine hours a day, or R11.66 an hour, R525 a week or R2 274.82 a month from March 1 to February 28 next year, and by Consumer Price Inflation plus 1.5 percent for the following two years.
The move follows violent protests in the Western Cape last year in which striking farmworkers demanded R150 a day.
Cosatu national spokesman Patrick Craven called the increase a victory for the farmworkers, “whose militancy and determination brought their plight into the national spotlight and forced employers and government to act to improve their wages and conditions”.
“They have proved once again that action on the streets is essential if workers and the poor are to achieve a better life. R105 is still not a living wage that can feed a family,” he said.
He said research commissioned by the Department of Labour and AgriSA in the Western Cape had found R105 could be accommodated by the sector “without substantial job losses, whereas if the wage went above R105 at this point, without other significant changes in the sector, there would be significant job losses”.
The research by the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy warned that “if the average wage increases to more than R104.98 a day, many farms will be unable to cover their operating expenses, and hence not be able to pay back borrowings or to afford entrepreneurs remuneration”.
On the other hand, “the real problem is that even at what seems to be an unaffordable minimum wage of R150 per day, most households cannot provide the nutrition that is needed to make them food secure”.
Cosatu Western Cape provincial secretary, Tony Ehrenreich, said issues such as affordability, new markets and new support from the government had to be considered as part of the way forward.
“They’ve got to look at the complete value chain… What are the retailers taking out of it, what are the exporters taking out of it, what are the goods selling for on open markets, what subsidies are there from government for production costs?”
Mulder, also the Deputy Agriculture Minister, called for a government wage subsidy for farmers to minimise job losses.
“If a youth wage subsidy is possible, such a wage subsidy would help curb job losses in rural areas,” Mulder said.
He said the March 1 deadline for implementation would force farmers to recalculate their financial situation in the middle of the agricultural season.
“The increase from R69 to R105 is an increase of 52 percent. Every farmer will have to recalculate his wage bill, while agricultural products’ prices will not be increasing by nearly the same figure,” he said.
He warned that the new minimum wage determination would inevitably result in urbanisation.
“Where permanent workers will not be affected so much by the new wage determination, it will lead to the dismissal of tens of thousands of seasonal and temporary workers,” he said.
“The decision will also directly work against the government’s intention to create more jobs in rural areas. It will also very negatively affect emerging farmers.”
General secretary of the Black Agricultural Workers Union of SA, Nosey Pieterse, was quoted as saying the union was “disappointed” that the minimum wage did not meet the workers’ demand of R150 a day.
Agri-Western Cape CEO, Carl Opperman, said the uncertainty over land reform, administrative costs – including Eskom’s proposed tariff hikes – and perceptions about the government’s intentions with agriculture and food security were worrying for investors.