The poorest of the poor are going to suffer, insists farmers who have implemented the new minimum wage for farmworkers. Many fear that the new wage might eventually force them to lay off workers.
The 16%-increase came into effect on 1 March 2021. Many farmers have started paying their workers the increased R21,69, but they have now turned to Food For Mzansi to say it simply is not sustainable.
Rural communities are at risk
André Janse van Rensburg, a Bultfontein farmer who sits on the board of Free State Agriculture (FSA), tell us that rural communities will suffer the most following government’s controversial decision.
“The poorest of the poor are going to suffer because they will lose income or have to accept a lower wage. They will struggle to stay alive,” he says.
Janse van Rensburg explains that because rural economies are wholly dependent on the agriculture sector, they are concerned about the fate of rural food security. There are very few economic activities in rural areas that are not directly linked to agriculture, he says.
He fears massive job losses should farmers have to fork out large amounts of cash to pay labourers.
In a recent FSA member study, more than half of participating farmers indicated that they will either have to reduce labour or halt employment completely.
This, Janse van Rensburg says, “spills over into the rural community where someone who is willing to work for a lower wage will not be able to because the farmer simply cannot afford it.”
He believes many farmers will have to eventually mechanise and get bigger and better machines to accommodate the new minimum wage. “At the end of the day, if the farmers cannot farm profitably, they will leave the sector,” he says.
Adding insult to injury, Janse van Rensburg explains, is that Free State farmers are already having to use their own money and time to continuously repair the dilapidated roads in the province. “Government has not done anything to help us with the roads. Instead, they threaten us when we want to fix it ourselves.”
According to Janse van Rensburg government should have taken the inflation rate into account before adjusting the minimum wage.
“You cannot increase the wage with 16% for one sector and between 3% and 4% for other sectors. Government must give us mechanisms by which we can work and, so to speak, negotiate wages,” he says.
The farmer is adamant that rural areas suffer from a lack of skills and low levels of training. He believes it is worrisome that farmers are forced to pay increased wages to workers without matric certificates without being able to use them effectively.
“A possible solution is if government comes with the suggestion that a farmworker with license must earn R2 an hour more, then it can work. But now we are being forced to fall in line and that’s not right,” he says.
According to Janse Van Rensburg it is not that farmers do not want to pay farmworkers what they are worth. “But government is making the price so high that we simply cannot afford it.”
‘More money makes farmworkers lazy’
Meanwhile a Western Cape farmer tells Food For Mzansi that he will most likely have to let go of a few workers as a result of the increased minimum wage. Instead, he is still trying his best to honour the new wage.
Wayne Mansfield tells Food For Mzansi, “I would like to help my workers grow and achieve their goals, but it is not that simple. There are many challenges, however. If I can afford it, I will do it.”
On the other hand, he says, the more farmworkers earn the lazier some of them become. “It’s as if they have more money to spend foolishly and on the wrong things. In my business, I make a point of growing people, but I have to agree the minimum wage puts farmers in a very difficult situation.”