Despite an increased minimum wage of R105 a day, seasonal farmworkers would still fall short of access to adequate nutrition, an agrarian studies expert said on Monday.
Karin Kleinbooi, a researcher at the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, said Stellenbosch University’s Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy had found last year that even an increase of the minimum wage to R150 a day would be insufficient for adequate food security for seasonal workers.
She said the previous minimum wage of R69 a day had legitimised the exploitation of farmworkers, and many who would now lose their jobs would also lose accommodation, as they lived on the farms on which they worked.
Job losses might be delayed by the heavy costs of mechanisation, but this would not last, and workers remained vulnerable.
Kleinbooi called for “meaningful land reform” to be prioritised to enable farmworkers to access land for subsistence farming, saying there was no “proper safety net” for them as they faced the risk of legal and illegal evictions.
She said government land grants earmarked for farmworkers were too small, and called for an appraisal of labour policies to protect them.
Farms, mostly privately owned, were not easy to regulate, or for trade unions to organise on.
“Farmers have been evading labour legislation because it’s on private land, with no access for the unions,” she said. “So the isolation of farmworkers on the protected domains of farm owners is a challenge.”
However, the evictions of workers to peri-urban areas where people were “more politically engaged and organised” presented an opportunity for them to be exposed to their rights.
She said modern seasonal workers would often work in factories or other formal and informal workplaces during the rest of the year.
“The definition of a farmworker has changed substantially. Many workers are not persons who have lived on farms for generations, but are poor people forced to look at sectors outside of formal job options,” Kleinbooi said.