Cape Town - Domestic workers on farms are set to earn up to R783 a month more than their counterparts in towns and cities from next month, which an academic says could set off a series of “unintended consequences” leading to job losses across the sector.

The new minimum wage for farmworkers of R105 a day, or R2 274.82 a month, comes into effect on March 1.

Under the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, farmworkers include domestic workers employed on farms.

This means a domestic worker on a farm will earn R783 a month more than one employed in a small town, as the minimum wage for domestic workers in most small towns is R1 491.86 a month.

The minimum wage for most large towns and cities is R1 746 a month.

Professor Albert Wocke of the Gordon Institute for Business Science said once the wage increase came into effect it would be “ludicrous” that in wealthier urban areas, domestic workers were earning less than in rural areas.

Wocke said that, as it was more expensive to live in urban areas because of higher transport and housing costs, there would be “strong pressure” on the government to standardise all domestic worker wages at R105 a day.

This could “destroy jobs” in a sector that was already suffering from falling employment rates.

According to the SA Institute of Race Relations’ SA Survey 2012, the number of domestic workers has declined by 5 percent over the past 10 years, from 1 215 000 in 2003 to 1 153 000 last year.

Carmen Louw, programme co-ordinator at the Women on Farms Project, said although the wage increase was “significant”, it was still short of the R150 a day the project wanted.

“Domestic workers face the same challenges as other workers on farms and, of course, the new wage is not enough.”

The Women on Farms Project also feared that domestic workers could be retrenched because of higher wages.

Louw said if retrenched, domestic workers would struggle to find new jobs in rural areas. “There is no alternative work, there are no other jobs.”

Louw said farmworkers in the wine-growing region of Rawsonville in the Western Cape had indicated that farmers might retrench domestic workers once the new wage came into affect.

However, the project had been contacted by only one domestic worker who had been retrenched since the start of farmworker strikes for higher wages in the province.

Margie Marman, an organiser at independent domestic workers’ union Sadsawu, which claims 8 000 members, said the minimum wage for domestic workers in towns and cities should be increased to R105 a day, as the current minimum wage of R1 746 a month was not enough.

She noted that some domestic workers were still too scared to join the union, fearing their employers would disapprove.

The Department of Labour had not responded to queries at the time of going to press.

Political Bureau