Agri-SA on Labour Conditions of Farmworkers

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Labour

25 September 2000
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LABOUR PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
26 September 2000
AGRI-SA ON LABOUR CONDITIONS OF FARMWORKERS


Relevant document
Presentation of Agri-SA (incorporated in the minutes)

Agri-SA delegation: Mr Peter Erasmus, Mr. Kleynhans, Chief Director ; Mr Vukile Mafilika (from VinPro SA an affiliate of Agri-SA and division of KWV)

Summary
Agri-SA gave an overview of the structure of the organisation, how they view the agricultural labour market and the policies that Agri-SA presently has in place. They provided statistics on the wage bill. Its representatives were closely questioned by the committee on conditions on farms and training. Agri-SA were reminded by the committee that their mandate in the new South Africa is to look not only at the farmer but also at the farm worker as their presentation focused more on the farmer than the farm worker.

MINUTES
Chairperson Manie stressed the importance of the labour conditions of farmworkers and the necessity for the Committee to understand these different labour sectors of the country. He said that it is critical for everyone to start building bridges with those who have seen themselves on the opposite side of the political spectrum. He hoped that the Committee and organisations such as Agri-SA would continue building on this type of relationship. He noted that Agri-SA has a model farm in the Western Cape. However, there are still conditions on farms that are grossly inadequate and it is important that they meet with one another to discuss these issues as they are currently doing.

Agri-SA presentation
Mr. Peter Erasmus, Chairperson of Agri-SA Labour Committee, made the following introductory points in order to explain their position and how they approach this issue:
- Agriculture is a long- term business. Those involved that do not accept and realise this will find themselves out in the cold very fast;
- Likewise they manage and administer their labour component on a long- term basis and this is crucial to the success of employers in agriculture.

Mr. Kleynhans spoke on the structure of the organisation, an overview of what the agricultural labour market looks like and the trends and policies that Agri-SA is following. He made the following points:

Organisational Structure (he explained that this organogram in their presentation document was in Afrikaans to reflect their heritage)
- Individual farmers cannot belong to Agri-SA, they join a farmers association and through this structure, they can become a part of Agri-SA.
- It represents approximately 70 000 commercial farmers (the large scale farmers are mostly white and the small scale emerging farmers are mostly black) incorporated into about 1000 farmers associations.
- Authoritative Structure is represented by: Agri-SA Congress, Agri-SA General Council, a Provincial Chamber, Commodity Chamber, Agricultural Business Chamber and then then Functional Committees.

Twenty three Areas in Which Agri-SA Acts Nationally & Internationally for Farmers
- Labour legislation, Marketing, Economic Information, Electricity Supply, Financing, Fiscal Policy, Community Development, Land Conservation/Environmental Affairs, Land Reform, Trade Policy, Input Costs, Agricultural Services, Rural Development, Rural Local Government, Monetary Policy, Industrial Policy, Education/Training, Disaster Aid, Disease and Pest Control, Transport, Food Security, Liquid Fuel, and Water Resources
- This is much wider than the traditional employers organisation in terms of the Labour Relations Act.

Focus Areas of the Functional Committees for 2000
- Trade, Industry and Agricultural Marketing (important for Globalisation)
- Labour
- Land Affairs
- Agricultural Inputs, Finance, Disaster Relief (the Economics of Agricultural)
- Law and Order (very sensitive issue)
- Communication
- Farmer Development
- Technology Development and Transfer of Information (smaller farmers rely on this)
- Water Affairs
- Constitutional Development
- Environmental Affairs
- Training

Regular & Seasonal Employment & Cost of Labour in the Commercial Farming Sector

YEAR

CASUAL/
SEASONAL

'000 WORKERS

REGULAR

TOTAL

MILLION RAND

WAGE BILL*

1988

495

724

1 220

2 785, 3

1990

456

728

1 185

2 694, 5

1991

413

702

1 116

2 927, 5

1992

394

657

1 051

3 481, 3

1993

492

648

1 139

3 819, 0

1994

302

620

922

4 934, 0

1995

289

602

891

5 511, 9

1996

304

610

914

5 919, 8

*The wage bill increased to R7 236,4 million in 1999.

- In 1999 860 000 people were employed in agriculture.
- Since 1988 the total of job opportunities declined from 1,22 mill to 914, 000 and has since gone down in 1999 to 860,000.
- The relation between the seasonal casual worker and regular workers used to be approximately 40% to 60% but the number of seasonal workers has declined and the ration is now 33% to 67%.
- There are many reasons for this, but primarily employment for workers will go up and down with the fortunes of agriculture
- Attention was drawn to the figure for 1993/94 where was a sharp drop and a shedding of 217 000 jobs.
- In the wage bill section - in 1993 there was an increase of R1,1billion.

Trends in the Agricultural Labour Market
- From 1994/95 to 1998/99 the employment of regular workers declined by 7,6% or +/- 64 600 permanent jobs.
- From 1994/95 to 1998/99 the replacement of seasonal workers
increased by 17,3% in horticulture
increased by 6,3% in field crops
decreased by 9,3% in animal production
decreased by 4,2% in mixed farming
- A significant number of farmers follow the policy of reducing regular workers to a minimum core and meet peak demands by hiring casual and seasonal or contract workers.
- Mr. Kleynhans did note that these statistics are a bit outdated.
- The proportion of contract workers in the agricultural labour market is increasing.

Agri-SA's Labour Policies
It is important to note that the farmers have developed these policies themselves. They are supported through the Labour Committee.
- Recognising all core labour rights of workers and the entrenchment of those rights in legislation. They are not only looking at what is law in South Africa.
- Making the best possible use of labour institutions like the CCMA and Nedlac (they have been a part of the Nedlac Labour Market Chamber since its inception).
- Actively promoting the improvement of occupational health and safety on farms. This is done through a series of articles and inserts in their monthly paper; however, they need financial support from outside their borders for other programs.
- No child labour. He stressed that they are very serious about this. This is an overwhelming issue to deal with. There is a survey, but it hasn't been publicised yet. He said they are not completely clean. He believes in the smaller areas and certain commodity branches there are still pockets of child labour.
- Migrant workers are a very important part of the agriculture workforce especially on the borders of Lesotho, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Their message to their farmers is very clear: they are to give preference to local workers. They only ask of the government to give them sufficient time to switch over from hiring migrant workers from Zimbabwe in Northern Province to the local people. This was a system that has been going on for decades and it cannot be changed overnight as it will have tremendous negative economic ramifications to this area and to neighboring borders.
- Minimum wage is a very sensitive issue. It could have a very negative effect on employment opportunities, especially at the lower end of skills levels to the detriment of new entrants to the labour market. He added that they are all in favor of a decent wage.
He was unable to provide a definition of what the minimum wage should be. It is still very much under consideration. It will definitely affect the lower end of the market. If you put the wage too high, farmers will not want to hire low skills workers.
- Access to farms is a very crucial issue. There is a security issue because of attacks on the farms. They do not want to use this as an excuse not to allow labour inspectors on the farms, but they want proper regulation, such as prior notice and proper identification. They have made good progress with the Department of Labour for labour inspectors to be regulated in terms of a protocol between organised agriculture and the department.

What is Bothersome for the Farmer in Labour Legislation?
- The extension of bargaining council agreements to non-participants.
- The definition of "collective agreement" requires a registered trade union on behalf of workers. With a unionisation level of only 3% to 4%, it becomes almost impossible to enter into a collective agreement with your farm workers.
- There is a seasonal fluctuation of working hours. For the moment this is not a problem as there is still a transitional arrangement. In terms of the sectoral determination, they recommend: extend during peak seasons (can be extended by 8 hours) and decrease during off seasons (can be decreased by 8 hours)
- There should be an averaging of working hours in continuous operations such as dairies where you need people seven days a week. At the moment it can only be arranged by way of a collective agreement so they cannot come to an averaging agreement. They would like instead of 45 hours per week to go to 90 hours for two weeks or 180 hours for four weeks. They would look at ways of regulating this tightly.
- Certain farm activities start at 4am. Currently night work activity is deemed from 6pm to 6am. This is a problem as for two hours it is night work and then it switches to day work.

Specific Issues on Land Legislation
- The Extension of Security of Tenure Act has an unintended consequence of discouraging farmers to house farm workers on the farm.
- Instead of investing, building or upgrading the houses on the farm, there is a move by farmers to rather help the worker to buy a house in a nearby township (together with the R16 000 housing grant for first-time homebuyers) and then supply a shuttle service between the township and the farm.
- There is already a problem of overloading the townships with housing.
- There is a lot of uncertainty about the definition of labour teneant. It says, "If you are mainly paid in kind or by being given the right to farm, than you are a labour tenant. If you are mainly paid in cash, then you are an ordinary farm worker." They are trying to get clarity on this.

Relationship with Department of Labour and Government
- They have ongoing contact with senior officials of the Department (open-door policy).
- They are in the process of developing a shared vision for farm labour under the guiding eye of the Minister.
- They are involved in the Presidential Working Group on land and labour issues.

Agri-SA's Activities in the Field of Labour
- Ongoing debate with Nedlac, other business groups and trade unions.
- Involved in International Labour Organisation affairs
- Leading role in combating child Labour (quoted as being one of five best by the ILO)
- Training farmers in Labour Laws (Labour Relations Act and Basic Conditions of Employment specifically).
- Information on Labour Laws in printed form, articles in press, radio talks, addressing farmer groups.
- Standard contracts/documents on the Internet.
- They have established their own Sectoral Education and Training Authority (SETA)
called the Primary Agriculture Education & Training Authority (PAETA)

The Chairman of Agri-SA concluded by saying Agri-SA and its employers strive towards a healthy, safe and productive workforce in agriculture.

Discussion
Mr Bruce (DP) asked for an indication of farming incomes over the period from 1988- 99. He said although it is very interesting to see what happened in terms of the wage bill, they would alos like to see wages in relation to total farming incomes to see whether farmers have been making a lot of money over that period, which he suspected is the case. His reasoning was what has been shown is a normal trend/increase in inflation and that is not enough to go on.

Mr Kleynhans gave the real gross farm income in 1995 as R28, 7 billion and it peaked in 1998 at R37, 28 billion. There was an increase of just under R10 billion. The net profit farm income is more important. In 1985 it was just below R11 billion, fluctuated up to 14,335 billion in 1989 and now stands at R10, 640 billion. Farm work wages increased 210% over 10 years and the inflation rate 140%.

Ms. Thabethe (ANC) asked for clarity about the minimum wage and sectoral determination issue. Additionally, are the workers who are deemed to be skilled being paid accordingly? What is happening now with regards to access to the farms for Labour inspectors? She requested that a clearer picture on the child Labour situation be given. She was under the impression that this is still happening. Moreover, what are your intentions about developing education on the farms?

The Chair of Agri-SA said if the minimum wage raises the wage bill in total, it will have a negative effect on their business. He put the responsibility on the Committee to figure out how to balance this issue. If they want to make a real impact and strive towards the national priorities of dealing with poverty on a broad basis, it may be better to have more people employed at a little lower wage. Of course they pay according to skills and also for the experience they have in the specific enterprises.

Regarding access to farms, he said that they have had workshops with the Department. It is important to have access to the farms; however, they have a very serious position in terms of farmers being killed. They have a responsibility to their people to protect them and their farms so there is no way there will be open access to farms. Prior notice and arrangements can be made to ensure access, otherwise no entry.

He said Agriculture in South Africa wants to strive for the goal of no child Labour. He agreed that there are still pockets of child Labour, such as when family members take in some of the children to help with the work the farmers have very little say in this after the contract is given. Additionally, when children return from school they want to generate pocket money to take back to school so the parents ask the farmers if they have any small jobs for them. The farmer and the workers have a very close relationship, therefore it is hard at times to refuse these requests.

Ms Thabethe (ANC) commented that there is room for improvement and asked Agri-SA what would they do if they were the legislator? She agreed it is a very tough thing to deal with. In regards to access to farms, she understands about the killings, but she said there are also cases of farmers killing their workers, thus something needs to be done to promote peace.

Agri-SA was asked the following:
- How involved were they with the present foot and mouth disease outbreak that has hit Kwazulu-Natal animals and how do they plan to prevent the spread of the epidemic?
- It was noted that they were silent in their report on the issue of training of farm workers. What types of training did they give to farm workers?
- Do they have statistics on how many farms are lying idle in South Africa and whether they intend giving these farms to people who want to work on them?

Mr Kleynhans responded that they don't have the capacity to do anything about the epidemic. With regards to training they have mentioned that PAETA has been established which has opened the doors for farm workers to be trained properly.
He did not have statistics on the idle farms, but they think they might belong to foreigners and he did not believe that South Africans would buy land and let it stay idle. He also mentioned the reason perhaps that there are no animals on the land is because the ground is not ready.and needs to be properly established.

On the issue of training, the Chair of Agri-SA said that from a business perspective any employer who does not improve the expertise of their worker will not succeed. He added that he believed that there were very few Idle farms or unproductive land as "no business man will invest money and not use it."

Chairperson Manie commented that the Committee would like to follow-up on what is happening on a practical level with skills training and education in the new year. He requested that specific details be given in the future because they are all aware that these issues are important, but they need to know what exactly is being done. He pointed out that there are more conservative attitudes on the farms. He said that it is good to hear about what Agri-SA is doing, but asked what is being done to ensure that these programs and policies are being implemented properly. What kind of measurement do you have? Do you have a proactive method of ensuring that people are subscribing to the things you have put in place on a national level? Do you have a code of conduct for your members and if so, what does it cover and what would you do if they are in breach.

The Chair of Agri-SA, Mr Erasmus, agreed that there is a conservative attitude on the farms and that is because the income and the margins in agriculture are very slim. With regards to brutal behavior towards farm workers, he wanted the Committee to recognise that there are exceptions and sometimes incidents happen and they want the courts to deal with this. "Let them deal with it!" He wants to be judged by what he does not what the "bad apples" do. He made a plea to the media as well to ensure they publish the facts.

On the Code of Conduct issue, he said that they believe they need to reach a consensus first on the vision of Labour in the agricultural sector with the Department and Minister, than they can decide on a code of conduct. It should not lead the vision.

Mr Moonsamy (ANC) commented that when looking at Agri-SA, one must first look at the past. Big business of which Agri-SA is a part, built itself up into a powerful organisation during the Apartheid regime. He does not believe that they have lifted even "a little finger" to assist transformation. They cannot plead insolvency or bankruptcy and they could play a very crucial role in a new South Africa. He said you cannot think in terms of twenty or thirty years' time. There must be a radical change. He wanted to know what gave rise to the decline in the number of workers (now 860 000)? What percentage of migrant workers are there?

Mr Mshudulu (ANC) asked specifically regarding the status of their report, how does the Committee verify the information and statistics that they have given them?

A committee member wanted to know why there is no Code of Conduct ? He said it is also important to know what they will do if a member of Agri-SA infringes such a code.

As time was running out, the Chair of Agri-SA gave a brief reply. He said in the end there is a balancing act and both the Committee and Agri-SA should perform in a manner that deals not only with history, but in the future as well. He welcomed all the political parties to interact with Agri-SA and to work with them on their present and future structure. In closing he said, "Do not treat Agri-SA as a position party, we are not adversaries but we are South Africans that can be utilised as partners to build a better South Africa; that's our intention and that's what we stand for. We as farmers have invested in SA, we are not going anywhere, we're South African and we will improve it so that our children will benefit."

Chairperson Manie agreed that farmers are very important in this country which the Committee does not have to be told, but so are farm workers. Their mandate in the new South Africa is to look not only at the farmer but also at the farm worker. It may be necessary to say that these issues are equally important in order to find proper solutions. One cannot continue to look only at one side and think the other side will also improve.

Mr Erasmus added quickly that Agri-SA is also providing R45 per month to the workers in Eastern Cape for social security (called the Provident Fund).

The meeting was adjourned.

 

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