Farmers, workers hold their breath in De Doorns

Cape Town. 130207. Grape farming continues in DeDoorns. Workers have been promised a minimum wage of R105. Lunga of BAWUSA. Reporter Cobus Coetzee. Picture COURTNEY AFRICA

Cape Town. 130207. Grape farming continues in DeDoorns. Workers have been promised a minimum wage of R105. Lunga of BAWUSA. Reporter Cobus Coetzee. Picture COURTNEY AFRICA

Published Feb 8, 2013


Cape Town - In De Doorns everything seems as it should be. Workers and farmers were back in vineyards and packhouses, children in school and goats grazed on the only patch of grass at the Stofland stadium this week where thousands of disgruntled workers gathered in the months before.

But despite the calm, farmers and workers alike are holding their breath to see what impact the new R105 minimum daily wage will have on table grape farms in the Hex River Valley.

“Farmers first thought it (the new minimum wage) was an April 1st joke, but now they are crunching numbers. We are not sure how it will affect us but we know it is bad,” said Hex Valley Table Grapes chairman Michael Laubscher.

Strike leader Shaun Yanta from Stofland too is worried.

“The workers are waiting to see what the farmers will do. People worry they will get laid off. Everyone is keeping their heads down,” he said.

For Laubscher this extra worry couldn’t come at a worse time.

“We are in the midst of harvesting. None of us wants to worry about that now. It’s a problem we almost want to shut our eyes to.”

On the farm Kalahari, Lou Bega’s Mambo Number 5 blared from a small silver radio as workers rushed to pack the grapes - ready for export.

Farmer Martin van Niekerk drew a picture of a crate on a notice board in the packhouse and divided it in three equal parts to show his expenses.

“For every R50 the farm gets for a crate of grapes, R14 goes to packaging, R18 to wages and R14 to inset costs like electricity, insurance, fertilisers and others.

“We are left with just R4 and with that we must pay for capital expenses and more importantly the interests on loans from the bank. Only then we may have a profit.”

Van Niekerk says a number of farmers will have to cut back on the social good they do because they won’t be able to afford it. Some farmers help workers pay doctors’ bills, subsidise housing, education and electricity.

“The relationship will become a cold and clinical one of just an employer and employee. Farmers will no longer be able to afford all these things,” warned Van Niekerk.

He said the cost of running his farming business had shot up between 2007 and 2012.

Packaging increased from R766 000 to R1.7 million, while his wage bill increased from R920 000 to R1.6m.

Van Niekerk said electricity more than doubled from R112 000 to R383 000 a year in the past five years.

Laubscher said: “Farmers are looking at other cultivar which are less labour intensive to cut costs. In the past few years I worked with 180 workers on my 50-hectare farm. This year I have only used 150 and that will decrease in the future.”

Farmers are also looking to shorten the peak season, when workforce nearly doubles on farms, from six to five months.

Meanwhile Yanta is now without a job.

“We were 10 who organised the strikes in De Doorns and only two are back at work,” he said.

Yanta is a father of three children, two in Cape Town and one who lives with him in his three-room corrugated iron house in Stofland.

Asked how he would manage financially, he said the Bawsi Agricultural Workers Union of SA (Bawusa) general secretary Nosey Pieterse sometimes gave him money.

“I will stay here in Stofland until my work is done,” said Yanta.

“We are still recruiting new members but I think workers will think twice before they will start to strike again.

“They are all worried about their jobs now,” said Yanta.

He and other farmworkers plan to meet on Sunday at Stofland Stadium to talk about what to do next.

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