Mzansi farmers with any labour-related issues now have a 24-hour access line to lawyers who are there to provide them with advice or assistance.
This has been made possible by a partnership formulated by the family farming organisation, the South African Agri Initiative (Saai) and employers’ organisation, the National Employers Association of South Africa (Neasa).
Dr Theo de Jager, board chairperson of Saai, told Food For Mzansi that the partnership agreement was signed on 22 April 2021. The vision of the partnership agreement is to bridge labour issues in agriculture and assist farmers with labour problems, as well as policy influencing.
“The objective of the partnership is to give our members legal advice and structural advice on labour issues. We also share the same values and policies on the most contentious issues in agricultural labour such as the minimum wage. Together we will be launching a big joint campaign against the 16%-increase in minimum wages.”
De Jager says at this stage, they are only collecting the data to see how many jobs this increase has destroyed so far. He also adds that the increase has destroyed more than just jobs.
“It has also closed down schools on farms. The school on my farm has been closed since the minimum wage increased because there are simply no longer enough children to feed that school,” he says.
Both organisations feel that unemployment is a heavy burden hampering an already limping economy and is the major driving force behind poverty and runaway crime statistics.
Yet, they find that the legal framework and “populist policy decisions” on critical aspects of employment such as minimum wages, right of residence and the space an employer has to get rid of a problem worker, are making it all but impossible for farmers to make a material contribution to job creation.
According to De Jager small and medium-scale farmers more often than not feel themselves being in the firing line of political statements and media allegations claiming that all farmers are exploiters, slave drivers and lawbreakers.
Instead, they wish to be viewed as partners to help create jobs where South Africa needs it most – in the deep rural areas.
Agriculture as employer has been performing in fields where no other sector can compete, he says. Farmers employ people who have no other place in the labour market; the most unqualified, most inexperienced and unskilled and most unequipped jobseekers in the rural areas are accommodated on farms.
Farmworkers never get rich
“Millions of people acquire their basic skills for other careers on a farm. There, they learn to drive a tractor, then a bakkie and later a truck and eventually they become drivers of heavy vehicles that allow South Africa’s logistical wheels to turn. Employers in agriculture are training people for many other sectors of the economy.
“Farmworkers never get rich, but neither do they ever suffer from hunger. Where food production thrives on commercial farms, many more people than just farmworkers, their families and extended families eat from those farms.
“When they lose their jobs as a result of unaffordable minimum wages or other labour regulations, the government has a dismal record of failure to look after them or to support hungry families.”
De Jager explained that both Saai and Neasa feel that the voices of small and medium enterprises are not being properly heard within Business Unity South Africa (Busa), the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) and the department of employment and labour.
So, by joining forces they hope to give a stronger voice to small and medium businesses and family farmers probably make close to 99% of that category, he says.
“Agriculture can create work if it is not hampered by bad policy. Saai and Neasa have already joined forces in our fight against unaffordable minimum wages and with emergency food parcels for hungry communities during the lockdown period, opposing a bargaining council in agriculture and several actions against expropriation without compensation.
“Formalising the partnership offers Neasa a legitimate presence in agriculture, substantially broadens its reach and sphere of influence, and offers family farmers the most powerful protection, representation and audibility available in the field of agriculture,” says De Jager.