130108. Farmworkers walking back home after a days work on a farm in De Doorns. Farmworkers are planning to go ahead with the planned strike. Workers are demanding R150 per day, currently the minimum wage is R69 per day. Picture Henk Kruger/Cape Argus

Cape Town - The new minimum wage for farm workers “will harm the country”, commercial farmers' union TAU SA said on Monday.

The increase would jeopardise labour relations, cause a reduction in the agriculture sector work force, and create a climate for inflation which would affect consumers, TAU SA said in a statement.

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant announced on Monday that a new minimum wage of R105 a day for farmworkers - up from R69 a day - would take effect from March 1.

TAU SA said the increase was a result of undue pressure and intimidation by seasonal workers, and said it created a precedent for future action in other sectors. This would jeopardise labour relations.

“... Small and emerging farmers in particular, certainly cannot afford these wages. Even concerns in certain industries will not be able to pay these wages... They will have no other choice but to reduce their workforce for the sake of financial survival,” it said.

By approving increases in minimum wages, and the cost of electricity and fuel, the government was helping to create a climate for inflation, which would ultimately have a negative effect on consumers.

TAU SA president Louis Meintjes said organised agriculture's “motivated proposal” of R80 a day had been totally ignored.

He also warned of further unrest if farmers implemented wage increases only at the new minimum wage level.

Workers already receiving wages in excess of the minimum wage would be unhappy if their fellow workers received a substantive salary increase and they did not.

“Farmers will therefore have to implement an increase applicable to all pay scales, which makes the situation much more difficult.” said Meintjes.

“With such increases, farmers will have no option but to invest in mechanisation, which will minimise the impact of further increases and labour unrest,” he said.

In recent protests in parts of the Western Cape, farmworkers have demanded a R150 a day minimum wage.

Agri-SA said the increase to R105 a day would have “drastic implications” in the sector.

“This is especially true for labour-intensive sub-sectors where individual farmers will now have to make tough decisions on adjustments to ensure their sustainability,” said Agri-SA president Johannes Moller.

“Such adjustments are inevitable, taking into account recent hikes in fuel prices and water tariffs, and a likely sharp escalation in electricity tariffs.”

He said the wage adjustment was not conducive to confidence, investment and the maintenance of the industry's contribution to food security. - Sapa