Garnishee order relief good news for farmworkers – Agri SA

Agri SA has welcomed the order that protects farmworkers against the unfair confiscation of wages.

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This was according to Agri SA labour relations senior manager, Elize van der Westhuizen.

Van der Westhuizen said the order, confirmed by the Constitutional Court, stated that a magistrate should take into account the amount of debts and affordability of any garnishing order.

“This will prevent over-indebted workers from going too long without a salary due to garnishing orders. This order will assist them to still be able to care for their dependants while paying off their debts,” she added.

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Van der Westhuizen said many examples used were of situations where employers had to deduct a substantial amount on the farmworkers’ wages due to garnishing orders. Once an order was issued, the employers had no discretion on the amount that was deducted.

On Tuesday 13 September, the Constitutional Court ruled that aspects of the enforcement were unconstitutional. Moving forward, no garnishee order, also known as an emolument attachment order, could be issued without oversight by a magistrate.

Previously, the orders were also signed off by the clerk of the court.

The orders now needed to be signed off by the magistrate or a judge and be granted in the jurisdiction of the debtor. The debtor would send a registered letter informing them that they had 10 days to pay their debt to avoid being garnished.

This order followed a case by the Stellenbosch University’s Legal Aid Clinic and others in the High Court in Cape Town in February 2015, which challenged the process of granting garnishee orders in the context of unsecured lending.

The case was against the minister of justice and correctional services, who was responsible for administering the National Credit Act. The other respondents in the matter were Flemix and Associates Incorporated Attorneys, representing small credit providers.

The law clinic took an earlier case against 14 micro-lenders who enforced hefty garnishee orders against farmworkers on appeal to the Constitutional Court.