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There has been a backlash against farmworkers in the aftermath of strikes earlier this year and the subsequent 52 percent minimum wage increase, a draft report into the state of agriculture and the rural economy has found.
The report, leaked to the Cape Times, says some workers were evicted from farms, while others were charged for previously subsidised electricity, water, and housing.
In some cases farmers reduced work hours or cut their seasonal workforce and were mechanising their operations.
The final report is expected to be made public at the end of the month. It recommends the government urgently appoint an inquiry into how many evictions had taken place in the province since March.
The Western Cape Economic Development Partnership (EDP) commissioned the report when it appointed a panel of experts in April to identify and address problems affecting the province’s rural economy and the wellbeing of workers and farms. It received R5 million from the provincial government for the task.
The request for the study followed farm strikes that brought Boland towns to a standstill between November and February. Thousands of workers took to the streets to demand better wages and living conditions.
Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant increased the daily minimum wage from R69 to R105 in March.
The report said that the manner in which the minimum wage was introduced “has had, and will continue to have, negative effects” and noted the increase was too sudden for farmers. “Consequently they have attempted to recoup their losses by whatever legal means available to them, including charging for previously subsidised or free services; changing work conditions primarily by reducing hours; reducing their seasonal workforce; and mechanising, to the extent that this is possible,” the report found.
Evidence presented to the panel suggested conditions of employment were changed unilaterally.
“The panel was also told of workers’ wages being deducted on no apparent legal basis.”
In other cases labour consultants advised farmers to introduce production targets for workers.
“Because of these measures, workers perceive that they are no better off after the increase than they were before, and in some respects they are worse off,” the report said.
The panel found that although some thought the wage increase had resolved the current situation, the reality was that it had not addressed some of the deep fault lines within the rural economy.
“What the protest actions clearly highlighted, is the need to address the underlying issues facing the agricultural sector and the rural economy,” the report read.
The report found:
* The slow pace of land reform had caused major frustration among communities.
* Various farmworker equity schemes were widely perceived as failed.
* The government gave inadequate support to farmers to access markets.
* Poor support for small farmers.
* The vulnerable nature of seasonal work, coupled with poor services and squalid living conditions, contributed to the reasons for the strikes.
* Labour brokers competing with one another gave rise to conflicts.
* Since 1994 the government has been unable to address farmworkers’ housing needs.
The panel also compiled a 20-page document containing recommendations to improve socio-economic conditions in the Western Cape’s rural areas.
The panel of experts, which included retired Judge Antonie Gildenhuys, former banker Venete Klein, land reform expert Karin Kleinbooi, Pastor Thom Thamaga, labour researcher Adrian Sayers, UCT academic Jan Theron and agricultural adviser Frans van Wyk, recommended:
* Forums be established to improve dialogue.
* Social compacts between farmers, workers, government and other stakeholders must be signed.
* The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries should complete the National Agriculture Land Audit as the first priority and make the factual data publicly available.
* The department must help improve access to markets.
* Arable municipal land, including commonage, should be prioritised for smallholder and subsistence farming.
* Farmers should make land available to seasonal workers to start vegetable gardens.
* Department of Water Affairs to reduce the time it takes to issue water licences and build more infrastructure.
*A land reform strategy is needed for the province.
* Farmers should be motivated to pay for or to contribute towards the costs of alternative housing when workers are evicted.
* Tax incentives to landowners for housing provision should be investigated.
* The parties could agree to place evictions on hold for a specified period of time.
* There needed to be legal recognition that seasonal workers employed the previous season had a reasonable expectation that they would be employed the following season.
* Farmers should directly employ the seasonal workers they require, and arrange transport to do so.
* There should be an investigation of the conditions of on-farm hostels.
* A panel should be established to independently assess the impact of the recent sectoral determination on the livelihood of households living on and off farms.
* Collective bargaining at a sectoral level should be promoted.
* Local and provincial government should improve access to schools, health care and transport.