An excess of labour requirements is having a counter-productive effect on farms as farmers struggle to keep up.
Speaking at the allFresh! conference in Sun City, Colleen Chennells, Ethical Trade’s national co-ordinator for Fruit South Africa, said that farmers struggle to adhere to all the labour requirements and still remain productive.
“There are so many complicated requirements that farmers are like a deer caught in the headlights and they don’t know which way to turn.” She said there is a need for a single set of laws that everyone must adhere to, instead of different sets for different phyto-sanitary and quality accreditations.
“The industry must also move away from multiple farm audits because it wastes time and money.” Dr Hennie le Roux, extension manager for Citrus Research International, added that it would be a lot easier to sell the idea of compliance to the whole agricultural industry if there was a single standard and one audit.
Questions were raised at the conference about the findings of the Human Rights Watch report on the living and working conditions of farm workers. While some delegates were of the opinion that there are farmers who do violate labour laws, others believe that the report is grossly exaggerated.
Dr Le Roux said that farm labourers lack the organisation needed to give them a voice and involvement in issues that affect them. Dr Le Roux said, “Having one labour union that dominates everyone is not healthy. I have seen a vast improvement on farms where the workers have their own organisation. This way they can get involved in finding solutions to their problems and the decision-making process. This gives them pride in what they do.”
Paul Hardman, industry affairs manager of the Citrus Growers’ Association of Southern Africa, said that SA is not being treated fairly. “Circumstances in the EU are not the same as in SA and not all the requirements should be applicable.” He said that as a result of the report, SA is now being watched very closely and agriculture will feel the consequences for the next five years, especially in exports.
Villiersdorp fruit farmer Lionel Martin said that housing for farm labourers is definitely a problem. “Emerging farmers have inherited problems that have been prevalent on farms for years. Rebuilding houses is very expensive and we don’t have that kind of money.”
Hardman concluded that labour ethics are critical for the way forward. “From a competitiveness point of view it’s critical to look after your labour force to stay in business.” – Lindi van Rooyen