27 Oct 2013
This week marks the one year anniversary of the strikes by Western Cape farm workers which left three workers dead, saw R160 million claimed for in insurance, and resulted in a 52% increase in the minimum wage for the sector. There are commemorations planned in De Doorns and elsewhere, but there’s also the potential for tension between farmers and farmworker unions who say that working conditions are still less than ideal. By REBECCA DAVIS.
What BAWUSA (the Bawsi Agricultural Union of South Africa) is calling the “Farmworker Revolt” began almost exactly a year ago in the fruit farming communities of the Western Cape. Farmworkers wanted to see the sectoral minimum wage brought up from its paltry R69 a day to R150. They didn’t end up with R150, but from March, when Labour Minister, Mildred Oliphant, posted the new sectoral wage determination, a day’s work as a farm labourer is not supposed to earn you less than R105 a day.
When the 52% increase was announced, there was much dramatic talk of the inevitable job losses that would follow, as farmers would not be able to afford the additional wage burden. In reality, this hasn’t happened. Business Day reported in August that the quarterly labour force survey showed that agricultural employment only dropped by 3.5% between March and August despite the addition of R2 billion to the wage bill. Agricultural economist, Nick Vink, was quoted as saying that despite the hype around the minimum wage increases, “there does not seem to have been a lot of concern about the R105. I think everyone agreed that R69 was too low.”
But that’s not to say that everything’s peachy now. BAWUSA and its controversial leader, Nosey Pieterse, claimed in a recent press release that farmers were exacting revenge for the pay hike through measures which include increasing the rent paid by farmworkers, and increasing the tariffs paid by farmworkers for electricity. “We note with concern that female workers, especially seasonal workers, bears [sic] the brunt of this retaliation of farmers,” BAWUSA stated. (The union did not respond to the Daily Maverick’s request for specifics on these allegations.) […]
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