Home Food for Thought Understanding the new minimum wage for agricultural workers

Understanding the new minimum wage for agricultural workers

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Whilst the new minimum wage for agricultural workers has been met with mixed emotions by farmer representatives and organized labour, both Cosatu and the Federation of Unions of South Africa have supported the wage and welcomed its implementation.

The legislation, which was passed by the National Assembly in May last year and signed off by President Cyril Ramaphosa in November, stipulates a R20 compulsory hourly rate for most categories of workers. It will be phased in at R18 an hour for agri-workers and R15 an hour for domestic workers. It started on 1 January 2019.

“This is a result of many decades of tireless struggle,” said Ramaphosa in his New Year’s message posted on the Presidency’s Twitter account. He described it as a “powerful demonstration of shared resolve of all social partners to tackle poverty and inequality”.

Mark Samuels, an Employment Standards Specialist Inspector at the Department of Labour, explained the implemented and adjusted legislation to Food For Mzansi.

Fiecher Makae tests the oranges before picking. Northern Cape Province, 2008: VaalHarts Irrigation Scheme.
Fiecher Makae tests the oranges before picking. Northern Cape Province, 2008: VaalHarts Irrigation Scheme.

1. What does the new legislation entail?

The National Minimum Wage Act of 2018 compels all employers to comply with this act when it comes to the application of the minimum wages. In the past there were bargaining councils and/or sectoral determinations for certain industries which regulated the minimum wages of employees. The new act states that an employer must pay agri-workers a minimum of R18 per hour.

2. How are agri-workers benefiting from it?

The minimum wage of R18 per hour is protected by legislation in such a way that it excludes the payment of transport, equipment, tools, food or an accommodation allowance, unless specified in a sectoral determination.

Furthermore, should an agri-worker work for less than four hours on any day, he or she must be paid for four hours work on that day in terms of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, as amended.

3. What are the actual benefits in terms of increases?

In terms of the National Minimum Wage Act 2018 the minimum wage for any worker is set at R20 per hour – except that farm workers and domestic workers have different rates per hour, i.e. R18 and R15 respectively. For farm workers it means an increase of R1,75 per hour.

Orange pickers check for ripe fruit. Northern Cape Province, 2008: VaalHarts Irrigation Scheme.
An earlier picture of orange pickers checking for ripe fruit whilst working on the VaalHarts Irrigation Scheme.

4. What is the farmer’s new responsibility in terms of this legislation?

The employer has the responsibility to ensure that he/she complies with the two legislation pieces, i.e. ensuring not to pay less than the minimum wage of R18 per hour.

In the meantime, a representative for the Women On Farms Project who lobbies for the rights of female farm workers warns that the new minimum wage still has many shortcomings. Rebecca Mort, the project’s Women’s Health and Empowerment Programme Coordinator, says they would have wanted to see more benefits for female farm workers. “There should be more specific input from the perspective on female farm workers.”

Mort further added that the amendment is worrying to them.

“The new Labour Amendment Bill is concerning. It limits the rights of workers to organise, limits the rights of unions and it gives a lot of power to employers and bosses not to oversee strike action, which is not fair because workers should be in control of the strike that they wish to lead.”

Chantélle Hartebeest
Chantélle Hartebeest
CHANTÉLLE HARTEBEEST is a young journalist who has a fiery passion for storytelling. She is eager to be the voice of the voiceless and has worked in both radio and print media before joining Food For Mzansi.
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