Battered by the coronavirus pandemic, the agricultural sector continues to bleed jobs. This follows pres. Cyril Ramaphosa’s Sunday night shocker on liquor sales affecting at least a million people with further worries about, among others, the fate of small-scale farmers and agricultural workers across the country.
In a joint statement the alcohol industry warns government that the livelihoods of up to one million people are at risk following the reintroduction of the liquor sales ban.
Kurt Moore, the CEO of the South African Liquor Brandowners’ Association, says in addition to the increased transmission risk, a further restriction in sales would have a disastrous economic impact on the industry and continue to exacerbate the loss of excise revenue.
He says, “Further restricting the legal trade of alcohol would fuel the growth in the illicit liquor market, which does not comply with the measures implemented by the industry and would lead to further irresponsible consumption of alcohol.”
Wines of South Africa communications manager Maryna Calow tells Sinesipho Tom there can be no illusion that Ramaphosa’s alcohol sales ban will bring additional job losses to an industry that was just beginning to get back on its feet.
“For every week that this ban will be in place, the wine industry loses about R250 million,” she says. “People will be losing their jobs and livelihoods. The wine industry was (busy) picking up the pieces after the initial ban, but now they are back to square one. We, unfortunately, don’t see a very positive outcome from this at this point in time. The full impact remains to be seen once we know exactly how long the ban will be in place.”
In his televised address to the nation on Sunday, Ramaphosa did not specifically say how long the liquor sales ban will be in place. The president believes the ban would take pressure off the national healthcare system as total covid-19 infections in South Africa now exceed a quarter of a million.
Agri SA deputy executive director Christo van der Rheede is also lost for words following the liquor sales ban. He tells Kyran Blaauw that the wine industry contributed R49 billion to the South African economy last year and, in the process, created 290 000 indirect and direct jobs. Approximately 40 000 people work on wine farms and in wine cellars alone.
Dawn Noemdoe reports that Mzansi’s unemployment figures will likely increase between two and four percent. This is according to Jahni de Villiers, director of Labour Amplified. Although there still are many seasonal labourers in the citrus industry, the impact on the wine sector and smaller agri-businesses will be severe.
The labour relations specialist also questions pay-outs from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and the Temporary Employee and Employer Relief Scheme (TERS) during the pandemic. “I have personal knowledge of hundreds of employers who are still waiting for the April and May payments, despite repeated denials from the UIF commissioner.”
De Villiers highlights the national minimum wage as another factor to consider that may add pressure to agri-employers. The National Minimum Wage Commission is finalising recommendations which will be submitted to the minister of labour and employment, Thulas Nxesi, including a special dispensation for farm workers. “It is obvious that covid-19’s impact on the economy, as a whole, will affect wages too. The sector will only be able to bounce back once most of the economic activity is restored.”
Noluthando Ngcakani reports that the fate of nearly 1 000 employees of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) still hang in the balance as deliberations between the institution and trade unions continues.
Last month organised labour unions, including Solidariteit and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), received letters from the cash-strapped ARC regarding the possibility of retrenchments. Talks are still ongoing, Solidariteit confirms to Food For Mzansi. The union believes amid the covid-19 pandemic, these retrenchments could pose a further threat to the state of food security in the country.
During the past financial year the ARC reported that it had liabilities exceeding its assets by R138 million. Its recent financial woes are the reason behind its intention to retrench up to 1 000 employees.
ARC senior manager for communications and marketing, Mpho Ramosili, confirms to Food For Mzansi that the institution is currently in talks with organised labour unions and cannot discuss further details regarding impending retrenchments. “The ARC have a formal National Bargaining Forum with organised labour. A formal public statement will be issued as soon as matters under negotiation are concluded,” Ramosili says.
Seasonal workers and small-scale farmers also at risk
Furthermore, Agbiz chief economist Wandile Sihlobo tells Fin24, “Regulations introduced at the end of March to prevent the spread of the coronavirus could mean that farmers and agribusiness might not increase employment, especially of seasonal labour in the same way they would have in the absence of the pandemic”
Hamlet Hlomendlini, senior agricultural economist at Absa, also predicts dark days for seasonal workers and small-scale farmers alike following the reintroduction of the ban on alcohol sales. He tells Food For Mzansi, “Unlike large-scale farmers, who may be able to weather the covid-19 shocks, small-scale farmers may be under enormous pressure due to the fact that they are highly vulnerable to crisis as a result of their limited access to resources, credit and basic healthcare facilities.”
EWN reports that Beer Association of South Africa CEO Patricia Pillay says the industry was committed to working with government to find solutions that prioritised lives and safeguarded livelihoods. “We are all in this fight together and need to deal with the root causes of the problem of binge drinking and drinking and driving. Imposing further restrictions on the sale of alcohol will not deal with the problem we have even pre-covid-19.”