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Johannesburg - Unemployment will soar in the wake of mass retrenchments predicted for the mining and agricultural sectors over the next few months.
This comes soon after the Quarterly Labour Force Survey announced that, for the first time since its inception, there has been a decrease in employment in the fourth quarter of a year. The country’s labour force decreased by 235 000 people between the third and fourth quarters of 2012.
“A decrease in employment was attributable to job losses experienced in the formal sector and private households. Employment in agriculture and in the informal sector increased by 24 000 and 8 000, respectively.
“The number of discouraged work-seekers increased by 87 000, while other not economically active persons increased by 259 000,” the survey said.
Yet, gains made in agriculture are set to be reversed over the next few months as farmers shed jobs in the wake of Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant’s announcement of a new R105 a day minimum wage for the agricultural sector.
Porchia Adams, spokeswoman for Agri Wescape, said the organisation had held many meetings since the announcement on Tuesday.
“We are trying to encourage our members not to react rashly by bringing about mass retrenchment on their farms. We need to be level headed and to consider ways in which we can retain the maximum number of jobs, while still being able to meet the requirements of the new minimum wage.
“Most of the agriculture in the Western Cape (wine, table grapes, fruit and vegetables) is labour intensive. We need to act with caution because labour is an important part of these businesses.”
However, convincing farmers to “act with caution”, at a time when they are up against a March 1 deadline for the implementation of the new wage, may be easier said than done. Adams conceded that many farmers would be tempted to shed jobs and restructure their labour operations before March 1, to avoid paying out retrenchment packages under a higher minimum wage.
Louis Meintjies, chairman of the Transvaal Agricultural Union of SA, said that more than 2 000 jobs had been shed in the industry since the beginning of the week.
“Farmers have been left with no time to consider alternatives. They can’t afford retrenchment payouts under the new wage, so jobs will be shed in a frenzy. We have indications that up to 25 percent of the workforce, or an estimate of 200 000 workers, will have to be dismissed. Don’t be surprised if many of these dismissals happen over the next two weeks.”
Hans van der Merwe, president of Agri SA, said that he would be petitioning government to allow for an extension of the March 1 implementation date and for subsidies and support for farmers. He bemoaned the fact that electricity and fuel prices are set to rise in conjunction with the new minimum wage.
“We are still of the view the minister was not properly informed of the impact that her announcement would have,” he said.
Meanwhile, Reuters has reported that the 14 000 jobs on the line in Anglo America are the first of many looming retrenchments in mining.
According to the SA Chamber of Mines, the industry has shed a third of its workforce between 1990 and 2011, from 780 000 to 513 000.