Working conditions on Boland farms wrongfully portrayed

Agri Wes Cape is concerned that a statement released by the Department of Labour (DoL) about recent inspections conducted on farms in the Paarl area might be a deliberate attempt to create a false impression about the state of working and living conditions on farms in the province.

After this latest round of so-called blitz inspections by Labour minister Mildred Oliphant, the DoL released a statement ominously titled, “Paarl farmers leave bitter taste in Labour minister Oliphant’s mouth”. The statement reads that blitz inspections conducted by Department of Labour inspectors under the leadership of Oliphant in the Paarl area have revealed shockingly high levels of 72% non-compliance with various aspects of labour laws.

But Agri Wes Cape told Farmer’s Weekly it found it “extremely frustrating” that the department uses terms such as “various aspects” and “shockingly high levels” in a statement that is based on inspections conducted on only a very small number of farms (39) in Paarl while there are about 174 fruit farms and 503 wineries in the area.

Agri Wes Cape also pointed out that the reality in terms of current legislation was that there were literally hundreds of rules and regulations that all employers had to adhere to, adding that while some of them were very serious, other rules were less serious and often of an administrative nature.

According to the statement released by the DoL, of the 39 farms visited, a total of 28 were found to be non-compliant and inspectors were particularly concerned by non-compliance of employers in terms of “environmental regulations, ablution facilities being sub-standard and the general safety of workers being compromised with basic equipment such as fire extinguishers not being in proper working condition.”

Agri Western Cape’s head of communication, Porchia Adams, responded to the statement saying that by not giving an explanation about the intensity of the offences, the department fails to distinguish between serious offences and those offences that are less serious and only of an administrative nature.

“It is simply not possible to use the statement issued by the department to draw any kind of meaningful conclusion about the true state of affairs on farms. “Rather, we feel that the statement creates a skewed and unfair perception about conditions on farms in the province which raises the question whether the statement was drafted in such a way as to deliberately distort agriculture’s image,” Agri Wes Cape argued.

Andricus van der Westhuizen, DA deputy spokesperson for labour and a member of parliament’s Portfolio Committee for Labour, who accompanied the minister during the blitz inspections in Paarl, also told Farmer’s Weekly the impression created by the department’s statement that working conditions on farms where found to be shocking is not necessarily a true reflection of the state of things.

“Non-compliance is sometimes of a technical nature. On one farm it was found that one fire extinguisher, out of more than 20, failed. It was clear that many farmers try to comply, but they struggle to keep up with the various regulations,” he said.