Grabouw - A Labour Department official on Monday questioned the viability of Western Cape farmworkers' demands for a minimum wage of R150.

“We have to bear in mind the reality of whether this can be achieved without damaging the agricultural sector,” said Titus Mtsweni, acting director of labour standards, at public meeting in Grabouw to discuss farmworkers' salaries.

Grabouw Civic Organisation member Margaret le Roux disagreed.

“The farmers can afford it. No farmers will sink if they have to pay R150 per day. We demand this and will not end our actions before it is agreed to,” she said to applause.

One farmworker remarked that if it would help negotiations, a wage of less than R150 per day would be acceptable.

The audience of 200 people erupted when officials tried to explain that their wage demands were too high, causing some people to walk out. The meeting ended soon after that.

The Labour Department had decided to host an extra series of week-long public hearings in the Western Cape, where farmworker strikes and riots erupted again last week.

Mtsweni said the employment conditions commission was expected to meet later this month and advise Minister Mildred Oliphant on the proposed new minimum wage review.

In terms of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, the provisions of the sectoral determination for the agriculture sector remain binding until they are changed or suspended by a new or amended one, or are cancelled or suspended by the labour minister. The current determination ends in February.

The sectoral determination stipulates minimum wages, number of leave days, working hours, and termination rules, among others.

“There is no chance that the minimum wage can be altered before March. The legal processes are binding and even if we were to publish an alternative in the Government Gazette, it will take longer than March to get it approved and implemented,” Mtsweni said. - Sapa