Johannesburg - Trade union federation Cosatu hit out at new Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana on Tuesday, demanding that he pay his farm worker the minimum wage.
This follows weekend reports that Zokwana, who is the former president of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and an outspoken advocate for decent wages, was paying a cattle herder on his rural Eastern Cape farm the equivalent of R26 a day.
Although there is no overall minimum wage in South Africa, farmworkers are covered by a sectoral determination set down by the Labour Department. It stipulates what vulnerable workers in different sectors, such as farming and domestic services, must be paid.
The minimum wage for farm labourers is currently R2 420.41 per month or R111.69 per day, which is R85.39 more than what Zokwana was reportedly paying his cattle herder.
“This covers all farm workers, regardless of the size of the farm or the workforce. There are no exclusions,” Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said.
“Accordingly, we call on comrade Senzeni Zokwana and indeed all those who have employed workers, including domestic workers, to lead by example and pay their workers the (prescribed) minimum wages.”
Craven also called on the Labour Department to enforce legislation and compliance with the law.
“Failure to do so means that workers will continue to be exploited by their employers,” he said.
Over the weekend, the SA Communist Party, of which Zokwana is a senior member, came out in defence of the minister.
SACP boss Blade Nzimande said Zokwana was until recently a mineworker, and was not earning an executive’s salary.
However, there have been reports in the media that Zokwana earned much more as a mining company was paying his salary.
Also criticism levelled against Zokwana has included that he should be paying what was legally expected of him, no matter what he earned.
In his new portfolio, Zokwana will be tasked with, among others, dealing with the working conditions of farmworkers, including labour disputes and minimum wages.
Farm labourers in South Africa have some of the toughest employment conditions and often work under poor conditions with relatively low pay.
The ANC is currently investigating introducing a minimum wage across the board. However, this is expected to take up to five years.