File photo: Shannon Dininny

Limpopo - At least 10 Limpopo farmers have been fined, some over R1 million, for underpaying their employees, the labour department in the province said on Thursday.

Labour inspectors discovered gross violations of basic conditions of employment during a three-day blitz in farming areas, spokesman Joe Mokou said.

The department issued spot fines to recoup salaries due to workers. Some fines reached at least R1 million because of the number of employees involved, said Mokou.

The farmworkers were allegedly underpaid by at least R1427 each and employers failed to contribute to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), despite deducting this from their salaries.

The operation aimed to determine whether employers in the farming sector were complying with the R2227 monthly minimum wage set by the department.

“When we discovered that they were not paying their workers accordingly, and also not paying UIF, we then issued spot fines, enforcing legislation for employers to make outstanding payment undertakings,” said Mokou.

Limpopo farmers employ thousands of workers, for produce ranging from citrus to tomatoes, and also employ seasonal workers during harvest season.

The department ordered farmers not complying with UIF regulations to do this. Documents given to inspectors showed some workers had yet to be registered after having worked for years at the same farm.

Mokou said inspectors found cases of employees working without protective clothing and some of their housing was not fit for human habitation.

“We are not looking for luxury accommodation, but what we find here is unacceptable, not even suitable for dogs.”

Some employers were deducting more than 10 percent, the legally designated amount, from workers' salaries for sub-standard accommodation.