Agriculture in 2013: Huge wage increase rocks agriculture

Minimum wages, drought, fires, disease, import tariffs and a meat labelling scandal.These were all issues on the agricultural agenda this year. Farmer’s Weekly news editor, Niel Saayman, compiled this overview of the year’s main news stories.

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One of the main hurdles for farmers this year was the drastic increase in the governmentdetermined minimum wage for farm workers. On 25 January, Farmer’s Weekly reported that demands for wages of up to R150/day by seasonal workers in the Western Cape could spur on-farm mechanisation and lead to job cuts. It was announced in the Government Gazette of 5 February that Mildred Oliphant, minister of labour, had amended the sectoral determination for farm workers, raising the daily minimum wage for workers working nine hours per day, from R69 to R105.

The change came into effect on 1 March. In the 22 February issue of Farmer’s Weekly, Agri SA’s Hans van der Merwe said government should make wage subsidies available, while Tim Harris, DA spokesperson for finance, said that the Treasury’s youth wage subsidy could save many jobs. Meanwhile, in the same issue, chairperson of the Langkloof Farmers’ Association in the Eastern Cape, Marius van der Westhuizen, said agriculture was facing one of its biggest challenges since 1994.

In the 1 March issue, the day the new minimum wage came into effect, Johannes Möller, president of Agri SA, said he expected a surge in retrenchments of farm labourers. On 5 April, it was reported that Stellenbosch University’s dean of the faculty of Agri Sciences, Prof Mohammed Karaan, also stated that the new minimum wage would lead to thousands of farm workers losing their jobs.

By 14 June, only about 18 farmers had been granted temporary exemption from the new minimum wage. A further 505 applications had been referred for investigation. Most of the exemptions had been awarded for either six or 12 months.

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