Many farmers pay less than minimum wage

More than a third of black and white commercial farmers in South Africa pay their workers less than the minimum wage, according to new labour minister Mildred Oliphant.

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But Agri SA has questioned the accuracy of this claim, saying it will contribute to the negative perceptions regarding employment conditions on commercial farms.

“The department has conducted inspections in 1 744 workplaces in the farming sector, including commercial farmers, and the compliance levels were found to be at 65%,” noted Oliphant in a written reply to a parliamentary question by IFP MP Peter Smith.In response, Agri SA said its information regarding labour legislation compliance levels on commercial farms differs substantially from the figures quoted by the minister.

Elize van der Westhuizen, human resources manager for Agri SA, told Farmer’s Weekly that surveys conducted by fruit producer organisations showed 100% compliance to minimum wage by farmers and a recent independent study done by a UNISA student also showed that most farmers complied with minimum wage regulations.

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“Our information shows that 80% or more of commercial farmers who are Agri SA members do comply with minimum wage requirements.” What’s more, she added, cases of non-compliance are often due to administrative problems, such as pay slips that have not yet been adjusted, rather than farmers not paying the minimum wage.Agri SA would welcome having access to verifiable information on non-compliance cases as a point of departure for “corrective action”, said Anton Rabe, chairperson of Agri SA’s labour and social policy committee.

Van der Westhuizen said, “Every time the department publishes inspection results showing that a certain percentage of commercial farmers do not comply with minimum wage regulations, we ask the department to release the information to us and to discuss the matter with us, so that we can compare the information we have with theirs, but so far, we have struggled to get any detailed information from the department.”

Mzobanzi Jikazana, ministerial spokesperson for the labour department, told Farmer’s Weekly that these inspections were carried out during the nationwide “blitz inspection week” from 14 to 18 June 2010.

“The inspections were conducted on non-commercial and commercial farmers and there were instances where it was discovered that services of labour brokers were utilised,” said Jikazana. “The department responded to incidences of non-compliance by securing 419 undertakings by employers to comply with legislations,” he added. Farmer’s Weekly was unable to contact the department’s chief inspector, Thibilo Lamati, as he was on an official visit to Cuba.