ZZ2, one of the largest farming businesses in South Africa, has vehemently denied reports that farmworkers were given an ultimatum by the company to either remain onsite during the COVID-19 lockdown period, or go home without pay.
This followed a report by eNCA in which farmworkers claimed the accommodation supplied by ZZ2 was inhumane, and that the time spent away from family caused them emotional strain.
The broadcast included interviews with unidentified workers who said they had to sleep on the floor and “fight for a turn to shower”, since there was not adequate water available.
ZZ2’s marketing manager, Clive Garret, told Farmer’s Weekly that everyone on the farm was given the choice to either stay on the farm or go home.
“Regardless of the choice made, everyone still received their full salary. This was especially [true] in light of the TERS [Temporary Employee Relief Scheme] payments made. ZZ2 had no reason not to pay the employees [who chose not to remain on the farm], as we were [being compensated] by the UIF fund.
“The people who chose to stay at home were not allowed back on the farm to prevent people being infected at their homes and then coming onto the farm and infecting the people that had chosen to stay on the farm. We also tried to compartmentalise the operations as far as possible to prevent the spread of the disease.
“As the [lockdown] measures were relaxed, we did allow people to start returning to the farm if they went into a quarantine facility, which ZZ2 provided. People were housed in this facility and they were provided with meals and accommodation.”
In the news report, ZZ2 was accused of not valuing their employee’s lives since they had a substantial annual turnover, but would not provide what workers deemed proper housing.
Garret said he believed the report by eNCA was not fair nor accurate.
“Just one example is that they quoted our [annual] turnover [as being] R24 billion. Our turnover is not one-tenth of that. It was extremely one-sided and [was only intended to show] ZZ2 in the worst possible light. There was no objectivity to the coverage. To interview three people out of a staff compliment of close to 10 000, just shows how biased the coverage was.”
On the issue of farmworker accommodation, Garret said that due to the remote location of many of ZZ2’s farms, the company did provide accommodation for workers.
“However, if employees would prefer to live at home and travel to work, they are welcome to do so. The agreement is that ZZ2 will provide the infrastructure, including electricity, hot and cold running water and somewhere to prepare meals. The employee must provide their own furnishings.”