Johannesburg - Farmers in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and the Western Cape have applied to employ foreign workers after the introduction of a new minimum wage in the sector, an official said on Friday.

A total of 6487 applications to employ foreign labour had been received, with 3369 coming from Mpumalanga, labour department spokesman Page Boikanyo said.

Employing foreign nationals did not exempt farmers from paying the minimum wage of R105 a day.

“The labour law does not consider whether you are from Zimbabwe, Swaziland, or elsewhere. What is important to us is that you are a worker and you are protected in terms of the labour laws of this country,” said Boikanyo.

The department had also received 918 applications from farmers who wanted to be exempted from the new R105 a day minimum wage.

The applications to employ foreign nationals came after the department was informed by Agri SA that farmers in Limpopo and Mpumalanga intended to retrench about 2000 workers.

“The department intends to engage with those farmers applying for foreign labour to discuss the possibility of absorbing workers from those farmers intending to retrench,” said Boikanyo.

The 918 applications for exemption from the minimum wage affected a total of 74,603 workers.

A total of 407 farmers had applied for exemption in Western Cape alone.

On February 4, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant set a new minimum wage for farmworkers, after a long and extensive consultation process with stakeholders.

This followed a strike by farmworkers last year, demanding that the minimum daily wage be increased from R69 to R150, and that a cohesive land reform programme be implemented.

The strike, which was accompanied by violence and damage to property in some areas of the Western Cape, was briefly suspended in December and resolved in January.

At the time, the Congress of SA Trade Unions warned it could co-ordinate “the mother of all strikes against bad farmers” later in the year.

Boikanyo said the department had given provisional approval to farmers to pay what had been agreed to during the consultation process with the workers, provided that the agreed amount was more than R75.31 per day, which would have been the new wage as from March 1 in terms of the old sectoral determination. - Sapa