Take charge!

Each and every farmer needs to take a lead in fixing the current ‘labour situation’ – because we can’t count on government.

Take charge!
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It’s unbelievable. Instead of focusing her mind and energies on how best to assist farmers produce affordable food, minister of agriculture Tina Joemat-Pettersson is apparently wasting money on frivolous travel junkets and congratulating farm workers for staging violent illegal strikes!

READ:Separate living and farming: the benefits

The silence in response to her actions has – at the time of writing, at least – been deafening. There’s been not a peep from President Zuma, and no word from Kgalema Motlanthe, Mathews Phosa, Trevor Manuel, Cyril Ramaphosa, Gwede Mantashe, or any other senior government and ANC officials.

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I find myself longing for a voice, perhaps from one of those I’ve mentioned, to cry out: “Enough of this! What is this madness that has employees destroying the very things on which their livelihoods depend? That has government ministers encouraging workers to break the law? For the sake of our children’s futures let’s get back to work and respect the law.”

On our own
Is there anyone out there in public life with the courage and the character to do this? Currently, the answer seems to be “No”. So we’re on our own. And if all we’re able to do is bemoan our fate and point fingers at the government, we become part of the problem. Now is the time for all farm managers to step up and provide the leadership so desperately needed.
Each of us has influence within our own communities and among the workers we employ. Now is the time for you to reassure all of those around you, to remind everyone about our country’s many positives and the many opportunities we have.

Let’s look again (see 23 November, pg 36) at some of the factors John Brand identifies as contributing to the recent labour unrest, and consider how many of these are largely in our – the farmer’s – hands:

  • Lack of respect: Who said respect has to be earned? Nonsense! Everyone deserves respect. It can only be lost.
  • Lack of concern: How concerned are you when an employee’s wife is ill or a family member dies? How concerned have you been about the government’s poor education and health facilities?
  • Poor health and safety measures: Are you at a NOSA 4 or 5-star standard or equivalent in your business? If not, it’s quite simple – you’re running an unsafe, unhealthy business.
  • Unfair wage differentials: You need to have a recognised job grading system in place.
  • Poor disciplinary codes/procedures: Do you have a written code? Was it agreed upon with your labour? Is it applied scrupulously?
  • Housing with no electricity, no clean water, no sewerage system, no refuse removal: Maybe you’ve provided this on the farm. But off the farm? Have you done anything to help? Don’t you think your employees would be more productive if they lived in better conditions, on or off the farm?
  • Lack of transport: What time do you get up in the morning? How many hours earlier do your workers get up to get to work? Have you done anything to try and ease the hours of commuting so many workers endure each day?
  • Poor security: Do you monitor security incidents experienced by your staff outside working hours? Have you done anything to assist them improve their situation? If not, why not?
  • Bad health and education services: State health and education facilities are shockingly badly managed. Have you done anything to alleviate this situation for your staff?
  • Illiteracy/innumeracy: This is a fact of life for many of our less-educated employees. There are a number of adult education programmes available to help. Have you introduced these to your business?

It’s up to every manager in agriculture to take up the challenge, and fill the leadership vacuum in this country. Unless we do so and build better quality lives for all the people who work for us and remove the ‘triggers’, more trouble might be closer than we think.

Contact Peter Hughes at [email protected]. Please state “Managing for profit” in the subject line of your email.

This article was originally published in the 28 December 2012 issue of Farmer’s Weekly.