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Cape Town - By Friday, 80 percent of De Doorns farmers won’t have to pay their workers the new minimum wage of R105 a day.
They are among thousands of farmers who can legally continue to pay R69 a day, pending a decision by the Department of Labour on their applications for exemption from the new wage.
Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant announced a 52 percent wage hike for the lowest-paid farmworkers this month. The deadline for implementation was March 1, but farmers who could not afford the increases could apply for an exemption.
Most farmers had applied for exemption and were awaiting a response from the department, said Elize van der Westhuizen, Agri SA’s manager of human resources.
Jacques Beukes, a farmer in the Hex River Valley - the epicentre of recent strikes - said the yield of this year’s harvest in the valley was down by between 10 and 20 percent. Some 90 of the valley’s 115 farmers had applied for exemption, he added.
This trend was replicated around Robertson, said Karel Swartz, the Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union assisting general secretary.
But Swartz has cried foul, saying that many farmers used “underhand” tactics while drafting their applications.
He warned of “a second revolution” in the industry and has approached Oliphant for an emergency meeting.
Swartz’s concern is centred on the department’s requirement that farmers submit proof that they have consulted with workers before submitting their applications.
Swartz alleges many farmers forced non-unionised workers to sign a letter confirming consultation.
However, Van der Westhuizen said the high number of applications was as a result of workers who had “begged” farmers to apply for exemption to avoid retrenchments under the new wage minimum.
Margareet Visser, a researcher at UCT’s Institute of Development and Labour Law, said the department should have foreseen the backlash and the new wage should have been phased in gradually. “Now we are sitting with an intensely volatile situation that could very well boil over into protests of the type that we have seen in recent months,” she warned.