Farmers forced to adapt

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IOL news feb 6  farm wages done

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File photo: Ross Jansen

Cape Town - Farmers and farmworkers in De Doorns, where strikes began in November, have had mixed reactions to the announcement of a new national minimum wage - from R69 a day to R105 - for workers in the agricultural industry.

Jacques Beukes, a farmer who suffered significant losses owing to arson between November and January, said that he had immediately halted a transaction which involved investing in a new tract of land.

“The announcement took us all by surprise. Personally, I was expecting something more in the range of R90 a day.

“I am happy for workers, because they needed more money and got it in the end.

“Yet, the fact that government set the wage at R105 per day is testament to the fact that they do not understand the condition of smaller-scale farmers. The minister said that the figure was worked out taking this into account, but she is lying,” said Beukes, adding that many farmers would share his opinion.

He said that many, including himself, would be forced to “take money out of the land”, instead of reinvesting in it.

He predicted an exodus of farmers to other African countries.

“But selling one’s farm is not going to be easy. Land prices will definitely take a dip in the wake of this announcement. If the option of selling off is closed to us, we’ll have to restructure and become more productive with fewer people.

“The wages that I pay will increase by R3 million annually if I keep the same number of workers. This is impossible for my business to sustain.”

Another farmer, Gerhard de Kock, agreed that land would devalue, but said the number of farms and agricultural output would stay constant.

“South Africa won’t see an exodus of farmers, as some have predicted. Those farmers who don’t have the ingenuity to adapt to the new situation will simply be bought out by farmers who can. The idea that small farmers are more disadvantaged is also a myth. If they work closely with their workers, they, more than the big farmers, should be able to maximise productivity,” said De Kock.

Farmworker Monwabisi Kondile said the new wage would make a big difference in the lives of farmworkers.

“It is much better than the R69, but we hope that working conditions could get better as well.”

Kondile said that if the wages could increase by at least R10 every year, they would be happy.

“We don’t want to have to pay for uniforms, that is the only thing that would make us go back on strike, and bad living conditions.”

Another worker, Stanley Phiri, said that the increase would allow them to buy more at the end of the week.

“People will be able to buy more food now but if the farmers aren’t happy about it then it may affect the workers, but the addition is a little bit better,” Phiri said.

Maria Twala said that she was happy with the increase.

“On our farm negotiations directly with the farmer have already led to a settlement at wages higher than the new minimum.”

She hoped that other farmers would follow suit.

Cape Argus


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