Exploitation of Farm Workers in the work place: briefing by Human Rights Watch and FAWU

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Labour

07 November 2011
Chairperson: Mr M Nchabeleng (ANC) and (Acting) Mr K Manamela (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

International organisation, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) made representations to the joint  meeting of the Portfolio Committees on Labour and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Human Rights Watch presented its report: “Ripe with Abuse – Human Rights conditions in South Africa’s Fruit and Wine Industries” based on
research conducted between September 2010 and May 2011, including field visits to South Africa in November-December 2010 and February-March 2011. Human Rights Watch interviewed over 260 people, including 85 current and 32 former farm workers. In addition, HRW interviewed farm owners, farmer associations and trade unions; labor brokers; civil society members; legal services providers; representatives from the fruit, wine, and alcohol industries; academics; and third-party auditors. It spoke to labor inspectors, government employees, and politicians. Most of the farm workers and farm dwellers worked or lived on farms that produced fruit or grapes for wine in the Western Cape. Farm workers in the Western Cape provided critical contributions to the country’s economy, fruit, wine, and tourism industries, but many farm workers worked without access to water or toilets; were exposed to toxic pesticides without the proper safety equipment; earned among the lowest wages in South Africa; and were denied legal benefits to which they were entitled. Workers on farms were often given substandard housing, and they and their families were vulnerable to evictions without any place to go if they were forced off the land. HRW found two farms provided dop (wine) to workers, a practice outlawed decades ago. Most farm workers were denied paid sick leave as required by law. Only a small handful of the 60 farms HRW reviewed were fully compliant though a few farms, on the other hand, went beyond complying with the law, and provided even greater benefits to workers. The Department of Labour was in charge of monitoring and enforcing labour laws, but the Western Cape had only 107 inspectors to cover approximately 6000 farms and all other workplaces. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform was seen as the custodian of the current land tenure security law, but it did not have enough employees focused on providing support to farm dwellers. It also did not track evictions from farms which made it difficult to gauge the scope of the problem.

▪ HRW asked the government to better protect farm workers and farm dwellers, primarily by monitoring and enforcing the labour and tenure security laws that already existed. In addition, the government had to devise plans to address the short-term needs of evicted farm dwellers.
▪ HRW asked private actors, including farmers’ associations, industry bodies, and retailers, in South Africa and abroad who buy fruit and wine from the Western Cape, to do more to improve conditions on farms and to ensure that farmers complied with all laws and industry codes of conduct.
▪ HRW believed consumer pressure was essential and could make a difference. HRW was not calling for a boycott, but was asking consumers to ask about the conditions under which the products they bought were produced, and to explicitly request that products be made available that were grown, harvested, packed, and bottled by producers that were subject to ethical audits.
▪ Government and industry needed to encourage best practices as well and profile farms already doing so.
▪ Government needed to form an inter-departmental task team that could deal with a range of issues such as legal and illegal evictions, temporary shelter, and labour rights.
▪ HRW asked the government to better protect farm workers and farm dwellers, primarily by monitoring and enforcing the labour and tenure security laws that already existed. In addition, the government had to devise plans to address the short-term needs of evicted farm dwellers.
▪ HRW asked private actors, including farmers’ associations, industry bodies, and retailers, in South Africa and abroad who buy fruit and wine from the Western Cape, to do more to improve conditions on farms and to ensure that farmers complied with all laws and industry codes of conduct.
▪ HRW believed consumer pressure was essential and could make a difference. HRW was not calling for a boycott, but was asking consumers to ask about the conditions under which the products they bought were produced, and to explicitly request that products be made available that were grown, harvested, packed, and bottled by producers that were subject to ethical audits.

Members asked why HRW did not name and shame the farmers perpetrating human and workers’ rights abuses. Members suggested part of the tax on wine should be used to address the challenges faced by workers in the wine and fruit agricultural sector.

The
Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) was aware of the plight of farm workers and forged strategic partnerships with several institutions, locally and internationally, to tackle the human and worker-rights related issues of farm workers. It dedicated resources to focus on the plight of farm workers and -dwellers.
There were widespread violations of the rights of farm workers by farm owners. FAWU stated that farm workers suffered beatings, insults, and were brutally killed in some instances. These cases were often poorly investigated by the police and the perpetrators got off with very light or suspended sentences.  Workers’ ID documents were confiscated, especially around election times.
Farm workers often lived in squalor, often without access to affordable food, clean water, electricity or proper sanitation. In response to changing policy and workers trying to organise themselves in unions, evictions from accommodation on farms had increased.
Farm owners often prevented government social services access to the farm workers on their land. FAWU suggested that agri-villages would solve the problem and would give farm workers access to bulk infrastructure like sewage, water supply, electricity, public transport, cemeteries and recreational facilities. The seasonal nature of farm work defeated long-term wealth creation and sustainability. Many farm owners did not comply with labour laws. For these reasons there was hardly a possibility of collective bargaining to improve working conditions or protection against summary dismissals. FAWU recommended that the HRW recommendations on the situation in the Western Cape and elsewhere had to be addressed.  FAWU recommended to the Department of Labour that it allocated resources to strengthen trade unions organising farm workers. It should also speed up the labour reform process and conducted yearly farm visits. FAWU recommended that national government invested in land, infrastructure and services where farm workers were dwellers or beneficiaries, that the property clause in the Constitution had to be amended to suit the economic transformation agenda of the country, that national government and local municipalities had to implement the resolutions of the Summit on Farm Workers of July 2010, and that organised labour and organised agriculture established a platform to discuss matters relevant to the economy. It also recommended that the government departments of Labour, Agriculture, Justice and Constitutional Development, Social Services, Education, Women, Children and People with Disabilities, the South Africa Police Service and trade unions came together to discuss and resolve the injustices prevailing in the sector and that law enforcement and community workers should be granted access to farms.


Members complained that the FAWU submission consisted of broad generalisations and needed to be more specific regarding statistics on human rights abuses. The submission tended to paint all farmers with the same brush and imply that most
did not comply with labour legislation. Members did note that when white farmers were killed, it made the headlines, but when black farm workers were killed, nobody except the person’s immediate circle was interested. The Portfolio Committees agreed that they had to see that the departments, over which they had oversight, had the energy and resources to do the necessary inspection work on the ground which was severely lacking.


Meeting report

Human Rights Watch (HRW) submission
Ms Charlene Harry, Research officer, HRW, delivered the presentation on the HRW report called:
“Ripe with Abuse – Human Rights conditions in South Africa’s Fruit and Wine Industries”

Methodology

This report was based on research conducted between September 2010 and May 2011, including field visits to South Africa in November-December 2010 and February-March 2011. Human Rights Watch interviewed over 260 people for this report. This included 85 current farm workers and 32 former farm workers. In addition, HRW interviewed 16 farm dwellers who were not current or former farm workers, and 14 farm owners or farmers’ association representatives. HRW also interviewed trade union representatives; labor brokers; civil society members; legal services providers; representatives from the fruit, wine, and alcohol industries; academics; and third-party auditors, among others. It spoke to labor inspectors, government employees, and politicians. Nearly all of the interviews were conducted in person with the exception of a few telephone interviews. In addition, HRW exchanged correspondence with some private actors, including retailers and farmers’ associations.

With only a few exceptions, almost all of the farm workers and farm dwellers worked or lived on farms that produced fruit or grapes for wine. These workers worked in the fields, in on-farm pack houses, or in both.

Interviewees were identified through a variety of methods. In many cases interviews with farm workers or farm dwellers were arranged with the assistance of organizations that work with or provide services to those populations. Trade unions facilitated interviews with some of their members. Other farm workers were identified through spending time in communities where they lived. Some farm workers or farm dwellers that HRW approached declined to be interviewed; a few stated that they wanted to tell HRW their story but were too afraid that their employer would punish them if they did. Farm owners were primarily identified through employers’ associations and civil society organizations. Given the precautions that we took to ensure that no negative repercussions arose for interviewees, in almost all cases we interviewed either the farm owners/supervisors, or the farm workers/dwellers, from a farm, but not both.

The Western Cape was chosen as it had the greatest number of farm workers and the second-highest number of farming units in the country after Free State and produced a range of agricultural products, including fruit and wine which were key exports. The Western Cape wine industry was particularly valuable to the South African and provincial economies. The province hosted six of South Africa’s nine wine-growing regions and most of the country’s vineyards. In 2009 the export value of wine from the Western Cape alone was about 5.91 billion rand (US$700 million). The same year the wine industry contributed an estimated 26,223 million rand (US$3,105 million) to South Africa’s gross domestic product, with over half of that sum remaining in the Western Cape.

The industry also directly and indirectly supported an estimated 275,606 jobs in South Africa. The importance of the wine industry to tourism rendered it even more valuable given that the government had identified productive services such as tourism, as key to employment creation.

Findings
Farm workers in the Western Cape provided critical contributions to the country’s economy, fruit, wine, and tourism industries, but many farm workers worked without access to water or toilets; were exposed to toxic pesticides without the proper safety equipment; earned among the lowest wages in South Africa; and were denied legal benefits to which they were entitled.

Workers who lived on farms were often given substandard housing, and they and their families were vulnerable to evictions without any place to go if they were forced off the land.

HRW interviewed a worker and his family who had been living in a former pig stall for ten years and workers living in metal shipping containers for up to five years. In the worst cases, farm dwellers were forced from the land on which they grew up, or were evicted and ended up homeless

HRW found that two farms provided dop (wine) to workers, a practice that was outlawed decades ago. One farm provided it daily, apparently as partial compensation; the other provided it instead of overtime payment. These practices were clearly illegal and also exploitative.

Most farm workers were denied paid sick leave as required by law. For example, the law required that farm workers be provided with sick leave for up to two days without having to provide a medical certificate, but almost all farm workers HRW spoke to said that they were required to provide a doctor’s letter or clinic letter first, which can be prohibitively expensive or time-consuming for a worker.

Conditions on farms varied, and HRW found a range of situations in respect of human rights.

It was the exception, in its research, to find farms that fully complied with all legislation. Only a small handful of the approximately 60 farms HRW reviewed were fully compliant, particularly because so many farms appeared not to provide the legally-required sick leave without a medical certificate.

HRW documented workers who were physically beaten and a worker who was told to work after being declared disabled and then threatened with eviction when he could not.

A few farms on which HRW did research, on the other hand, went beyond complying with the law, and provided even greater benefits to workers. For example, farmers and farm workers described farmers who provided land to workers to grow their own food, who provided educational support to workers or their children, and who set up trusts that benefited workers.

Challenges
The Department of Labour (DoL) was in charge of monitoring and enforcing labour laws, but at the time of research, the Western Cape had only 107 inspectors who were required to cover approximately 6000 farms and all other workplaces in the province.

HRW interviewed 117 workers and former workers, some of whom had been working for decades, and only one worker told HRW that he had been interviewed by a labour inspector. Farmers also told HRW that labour inspectors seldom visited. One farm operating since 2001 said they had never received a visit from a labour inspector.

The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform was seen as the custodian of the current land tenure security law, but had not been able to ensure that farm dwellers were always protected by the law. The Department did not have enough employees focused on providing support to farm dwellers. It also did not track evictions from farms (either legal or illegal), which made it difficult for government, farmers, and civil society groups to understand the scope of the problem.

Recommendations
HRW asked the government to better protect farm workers and farm dwellers, primarily by monitoring and enforcing the labour and tenure security laws that already existed. In addition, the government had to devise plans to address the short-term needs of evicted farm dwellers.

HRW asked private actors, including farmers’ associations, industry bodies, and retailers, in South Africa and abroad who buy fruit and wine from the Western Cape, to do more to improve conditions on farms and to ensure that farmers complied with all laws and industry codes of conduct.

HRW believed consumer pressure was essential and could make a difference. HRW was not calling for a boycott, but was asking consumers to ask about the conditions under which the products they bought were produced, and to explicitly request that products be made available that were grown, harvested, packed, and bottled by producers that were subject to ethical audits.

Government and industry needed to encourage best practices as well and profile the farms that were already doing so.

Government needed to form an inter-departmental task team that could deal with a range of issues such as legal and illegal evictions, temporary shelter, and labour rights.

Discussion
Mr A Williams (ANC) asked what the attitude of farmer associations was towards the HRW report.

Mr Williams asked if the different farmer associations had any influence on how farmers treated their workers.

Mr E Nyekembe (ANC) joined Mr Williams in asking whether HRW met with the trade unions and Agri-SA to discuss the outcome of the report, and if the answer was yes, what was their reaction?

Ms Harry replied that some were enthusiastic and helpful. Some allowed interviews to happen within work time. Agri-SA participated for most of the process, but pulled out at the latter stages and did not want to communicate with HRW anymore.

Mr D du Toit (DA) said that he understood the main problem to be the lack of labour inspectors. That could not be blamed on the farming community.

Ms Harry replied that more labour inspectors were needed. A ratio of 107: 6000 was not ideal. The inspectorate needed more capacity.

Mr Nyekembe asked whether farmers adhered to the standards agreed to in sectoral determination forums. The report reflected non-adherence to sectoral determination agreements, irrespective of being visited by labour inspectors.

Mr Du Toit said that when the report was published, it got lambasted by the Department of Land Reform and Rural Development. There was six week media frenzy after the launch of the report. What was the result of the media attention?

Ms Harry replied that HRW launched the report in August. There were no responses yet.

Ms D Carter (COPE) said that human dignity was not negotiable, but the report was unreliable. In some places it said that 14 farms were sampled and in other places 60? What methodology was used. How was the sample chosen? It was not a generalisation of what was happening on all farms.

Ms Harry replied, regarding the generalisation, that this was not new information.

Ms M Pilusa-Mosoane (ANC) said that the research was based in the Western Cape. What was happening in the other provinces?

Ms Harry replied that HRW also did surveys on migrant workers in Limpopo and Mpumalanga. It would do the whole country if it were not for resources constraints.

The Chairperson said he wanted the specifics of the methodology.

Ms Harry replied that this question came up in most meetings. One could flaw the methodology; HRW had issued two reports in the past. The actual issue was a lack of response and a lack of change.

The Chairperson came back to the question of methodology. Nobody doubted the abuses, the evictions and the non-compliance with labour legislation, but the Committees had to get a sense of the extent of the problem. There was a difference between sampling 12 or 60 farms. Out of 6000 farms, how many were sampled. It may not be detrimental to the workers. The meeting just had to understand that out of 6000 farms, x number of people were interviewed. She had to clarify the methodology.

Mr Du Toit said that he was confused. How have HRW identified the farms to be visited? 60 farms out of 6000 was 1% which was unrepresentative. If the associations that HRW worked with pointed the farms out, because there were known problems on those farms, then it was an unfair sample. The claims made here were unsubstantiated and one-sided.  He wanted to see the correspondence and emails between HRW and Agri-SA and Agri-Western Cape in order to see for himself. He could not apply his mind to how the farms were identified. The 1% sample was not determined by chance. It was not valid research. What was the effect of these HRW reports that were published? What did HRW want from Parliament? What was the result?

Ms Carter said whether it was 1 or 100 people affected, it did not matter. The report talked about samples of 14 which was 0.02% or 60 which was 1% of the 6000 farms that existed. Were farms targeted from which complaints had been received, or were they randomly chosen? It was important to know that.

The Chairperson said that one should not deny that there were problems on farms or that farm owners in some instances did not comply with the labour laws of the country. On the question of methodology, the farms were visited and there were problems on those farms. It was wrong to deny that there was a problem. Maybe it was on those 60 farms or maybe on the majority of those farms. Another important point was that government had to be leading in doing the actual research to determine the extent of the problem.

Ms Harry replied that on page 9, it stated that various methods were used. Some interviewees came from trade unions, some from the communities, some were farm dwellers. Some farm dwellers declined to be interviewed for fear that their employer would find out. The HRW took precautions not to expose farm dwellers to negative repercussions. Farm dwellers and owners of the same farm were not both interviewed. HRW had received requests, emails, and telephone calls reporting incidents of HR abuses on farms. HRW did a feasibility study to gauge the extent of the problem and found that there was a problem. HRW served to amplify the voices, not to sensationalise issues and have media drives. This report had not impacted negatively on the sales of South African products overseas.

Mr Williams asked which farms still used the dop system.

Ms M Phaliso (ANC) said that it was worrying, the report on the Western Cape. What happened in other provinces? She wanted a report on the whole country. The report talked about people being forced off the land, including children and elderly people. People were treated like dogs. It was a human rights issue. Why did HRW not name and shame the farmers who did these deeds?

Ms Harry replied that the contact with the sources remained confidential. Partners who worked with HRW would be able to give the details. HRW would make the contact details of the partners available. She could not name the farms or farm owners. The workers and owners of 60 farms were interviewed. The numbers of interviewees were sizeable. HRW had a meeting with the Minister of Agriculture and took strength from her response. Ms Harry said that the methodology could be found lacking, but the issues were there. HRW was looking for a partnership with government, trade unions and social partners. She would be happy to provide the Committee with contact details of organised labour, vetted by legal advocates. She could facilitate it.

Ms Phaliso said the Chairperson was right in pointing out that there was a problem in terms of gross human rights violations by certain farm owners. She asked whether the government departments had responded to what HRW pointed out. Did the identified departments help the homeless to give them homes? Were there responses?

Ms Harry replied that the DOL and the National Department of Human Settlements (NDHS) did not respond at all to requests for meetings. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform responded and was helpful. The level of service regarding checking the evictions was low. There was no system in place which tracked what happened to evictees after evictions.

Mr S Abram (ANC) said that a significant number of farm owners saw their labour force as extended family and treated them as such. The law said the basic conditions of employment had to be adhered to. He tried to be future orientated. Yes, there were workers who abused workers. Had the government failed its people? His answer was yes, government had failed. HRW had recommendations. The report said that no government department had an action plan to respond to the short-term needs of evicted farm dwellers.

Mr Abram said the Department had contracted a firm of lawyers that was supposed to assist the people. The firm was based in Cape Town and it appointed a lawyer in the Free State to handle its business there. This lawyer always got involved in compromises to the detriment of the evictee. The Department had to ask itself whether it was up to speed.  He would like to look at the recommendations of the HRW. Organised agriculture would have to be engaged. Government would have to work in tandem with these bodies to point out the areas involved and the individuals who committed abuses. He had heard about a farmer intimidating children on their way to school, by threatening to run them over with his bakkie. It was important not to tarnish the agricultural sector per se as a sector which abused workers.

He said people needed to be better protected by labour and tenure security laws. Had they found evidence? When people approached government departments, what were the responses? Government departments, when dealing with sensitive issues were often found lacking. They did not know how to communicate with people. The lawyers which were supposed to protect them were bought over and farm workers realised it. Farm workers had to be respected and not under-estimated. He placed a great premium on organised agriculture. The people involved were people with integrity and the issues raised had to be discussed with them. He understood HRW’s reluctance to divulge information given to it in confidence,  but he asked whether the information could not be given in confidence, so that the problems could be solved.

Ms N Twala (ANC) asked whether there were any improvements to the situation or was the situation getting worse. Were there any deaths during the beatings and gross human rights violations?

Mr M Nchabeleng (ANC) said that the recommendations were good. Workers rights were human rights. HRW was an international institution doing what government was supposed to do. It was not helpful, when monitoring and righting wrongs that HRW did not want to make information available on who the human rights abusers were. He found it disturbing that HRW made agreements with abusers. Government needed to have meetings with the people mentioned. Laws were made to be respected. Anyone who broke the law had to be taken to court. Maybe the purpose of the research was just to raise the consciousness. Government had a lead on where to serve.

Mr M Johnson, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said that he had a sense of serious arrogance and defensiveness on the part of Ms Harry, in the way she did the presentation as well as her responses to the questions posed to her. What was the role of the report? HRW was doing a good job. It wanted press coverage. He asked whether HRW had identified the role of such a report to target direction on accommodation, wages, health, and conditions of employment. Had HRW thought about how to use the report in addressing the conditions on the farms?

Ms Harry apologised to the Chair and the meeting, including Mr Johnson, for coming across as arrogant.

Ms Harry said that blitzes on farms were unsustainable. One could not do blitzes on all farms. People had to respect the Constitution.

Mr Du Toit pointed out that the report was written by Kaitlin Cordes. He asked who Charlene Harry was that she now came to do the presentation. He said that the report stated, under Acknowledgements that there were discussions with Karel Opperman and Carl Swarts  from Agri-WC, but their inputs were not reflected in the report. He asked whether the government should not consider ring-fencing the tax on liquor to be ploughed back into the sector. The Government received more tax on a bottle wine than the amount the farmer received. Why did the HRW not recommend this?

Ms Harry replied that HRW could look at what it could do regarding this recommendation.

A Committee Member said that the government had to put together a task team.

Ms Harry replied that HRW’s recommendation was that an intergovernmental task team be set up consisting of the Departments of Human Settlements, Rural Development and Land Reform, and Labour to work together on the issues and speed up the RDP program.

Mr Nchabeleng said the purpose of the report was that it was a tool to assist government where necessary.

The Chairperson said that as part of the way forward, the report had to be discussed with the other departments mentioned. The report was not groundbreaking. The issues had been raised before. The Committee needed more specific information on the farms where the dop-system was still being practised. The specific information had to be provided regarding the abuses so that people who were breaking the law could be exposed. Irrespective of whether there were institutions to enforce the law, it had to be applied. Employers had to follow the laws. The report seemed sensationalist, because of the fact that the report seemed to want to impact on the wine industry. Nobody wanted a thriving wine industry on the back of the misery of the workers. The report would keep on the radar the ability and willingness of employers to comply with labour laws. The Committee would engage with more people and in order to get a deeper understanding of the situation with farm workers.

Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) submission
Mr Moleko Phakedi, FAWU National Deputy General Secretary, said FAWU organised workers in the food and beverage processing, sales and distribution sector, primary and secondary agricultural sector, forestry plantations and processing, fishing in and off-shore and processing, and all other related sectors. It was locally affiliated to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and internationally to the
International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Association (IUF). It had a national membership of 127 000 of which roughly 31 000 were farm workers.

FAWU was aware of the plight of farm workers and forged strategic partnerships with several institutions, locally and internationally, to tackle the human and worker-rights related issues of farm workers. It dedicated resources to focus on the plight of farm workers and -dwellers. It aimed to increase its knowledge and understanding of the sector, to set up strategic and progressive partnerships, and to mobilise resources towards coordinated collective programs to improve the working and living conditions of farm workers.

There were widespread violations of the rights of farm workers by farm owners. Farm workers suffered beatings, insults, and were brutally killed in some instances. These cases were often poorly investigated by the police and the perpetrators got off with very light or suspended sentences.  Workers’ ID documents were confiscated, especially around election times.

The fact that the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) had to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Farming Communities of South
Africa at the Birchwood Hotel in Boksburg on 18 March 2009, to negotiate the freedom for farm workers to participate in elections, spoke volumes about the lack of access farm workers had to a basic right granted to all South Africans by the Constitution.

Farm workers often lived in squalor, without access to affordable food, clean water, electricity or proper sanitation. In response to changing policy and workers trying to organise themselves in unions, evictions from accommodation on farms had increased, leaving many farm workers homeless. Farm owners often prevented government social services access to the farm workers on their land. Only agri-villages would solve the problem and would give farm workers access to bulk infrastructure like sewage, water supply, electricity, public transport, cemeteries and recreational facilities. Children of farm workers did not have the same access to education as urban dwellers, because of high school fees, a lack of transport or the cost of it and long distances that had to be travelled. The schools were often on private property, which they could not access. Their unhealthy social environments lead to anti-social behaviour or early parenthood, forcing them to become farm workers themselves. Worldwide, workers in the agricultural sector were considered vulnerable. They worked under dangerous conditions. Women and children were even more vulnerable and most exploited. The seasonal nature of farm work defeated long-term wealth creation and sustainability.
Many farm owners did not comply with labour laws.  They paid workers less than the stipulated minimum in the Sectoral Determination, and made workers work unpaid overtime, did not provide personal protective clothing as prescribed by the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), ignored the Employment Equity Act and Skills Development Act, intimidated workers with dismissal if they joined trade unions, threatened union officials with trespassing. For these reasons, there was hardly a possibility of collective bargaining to improve working conditions or protection against summary dismissals.

FAWU recommended that the HRW recommendations on the situation in the Western Cape had to be addressed and similar situations had to be addressed in all provinces.  FAWU recommended to the DOL that it allocated resources to strengthen trade unions organising farm workers. FAWU further recommended that the DoL sped up the labour reform process and conducted yearly farm visits with specific targets.

Regarding civil and political rights, FAWU recommended:
▪ national government invested in land, infrastructure and services where farm workers were dwellers or beneficiaries,
▪ the property clause in the Constitution had to be amended to suit the economic transformation agenda of the country,
▪ national government and local municipalities had to implement the resolutions of the Summit on Farm Workers held in July 2010,
▪ organised labour and organised agriculture established a platform to discuss matters relevant to the economy,

▪ Departments of Labour, Agriculture, Justice and Constitutional Development, Social Services, Education, Women, Children and People with Disabilities, South Africa Police Service and trade unions came together to discuss and resolve the injustices prevailing in the sector,
▪ law enforcement and community workers were granted access to farms.


Discussion
Chairperson Nchabeleng said the FAWU presentation raised the same issue as the HRW presentation. It said that farm workers were victims in the past as well as in the present. According to ANC combatants working in the northern part of Limpopo Province, the North West and the northern parts of KZN, during the apartheid years, farm workers were used by the South African Defence Force (SADF) as patrols, as reconnaissance personnel, trackers and informers and the workers were sometimes caught in the crossfire between the guerrillas and police. Landmines laid for the SADF sometimes caught farm workers.

Looking at the present situation, it seemed that farm workers had not gained anything. They still could not freely go to the polls and vote. They lost their right to vote. He could safely attest, based on his visit to farms during the blitz, that the Minister and Department were not under the impression that all farms could be freely visited. It did send a message that there were new players on the block, when the entourage visited the farms with sirens blaring. It showed farm workers that government cared. The situation was getting worse every day. Evictions had increased since liberation. Evicting people without court order was a crime. In small rural areas, the police also broke the law when they assisted farmers to evict people without having court orders to that effect. Even the police were not aware that they broke the law in instances like this. It showed that there was a need to build capacity even in the police and other law enforcement agencies.
Regarding education for children of farm workers, farmers did not send their children to farm schools, because they knew the quality of education was below standard. Racism was still rife and the terms ‘baas’ and ‘kaffir’ in common use.

The Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Reform (PLAAS), which was a major stakeholder of Parliament on rural development, was represented in the meeting and the Chairperson acknowledged this.

Mr Williams asked the names and locations of farms that were non-compliant to labour and other laws, where unions were not allowed and the members were victimised.

Ms Phaliso said that the fishing industry also needed an in-depth investigation to determine the extent of labour and human rights abuses in its ranks. She wanted an overview of the Shipping Act. When farmers were killed, the news made the headlines, but when farm workers were killed, there were no headlines. She wanted to know exactly which farms were involved in killing and abusing workers. She asked if undocumented workers without IDs, really earned salaries. Yes, the country needed food production and successful farms, but not at the expense of workers’ rights. She asked why Social Services did not go to farms to make a needs analysis. Did FAWU engage Social Services? What was the outcome of the engagement? Where were the farms where foreign nationals were employed and how many were there? She wanted to know what documentation they had. She wanted to see the extent of the human rights abuses. She commented that in the fishing industry, it was even worse.

Ms Pilusa-Mosoane (ANC) said the plight of farm workers or dwellers were the same all over the country. She was from Limpopo where a farm worker was killed because the farmer thought she was a baboon. The buck stopped with the government departments. Departments had the job of regulating industries. This joint meeting was not enough. The different portfolio committees had to come together to push their departments to talk and plan a lot more in order to address the situation.  She wanted a comprehensive report on the human rights abuses on farms for the country as a whole. She was there when Agri-SA had walked out of the National Farm Workers’ Summit in July 2010, because it did not agree with the summit’s declaration.

The Chairperson said that the killings on farms happened to black people, so  there was a degree of racism involved in the human rights abuses on farms, and what made matters worse was that the judiciary often let the perpetrators off scot free. They got petty cash fines and lenient bail for murder. He did not want to make racial comparisons, but was tempted sometimes out of anger. The farming community also needed to be capacitated and educated about human rights and labour laws. They had to understand that failure to adhere to the laws could land them in prison. This challenge lay at the door of the DoL.

Mr Nyekembe said that both HRW and FAWU expressed the need for the different government departments to come together to address the problems in the farming sector. Could the Chairpersons of the Portfolio Committees on Labour and Agriculture find a way of engaging the chairpersons of the other relevant Portfolio Committees? One needed to look at how the work place was defined in terms of the Labour Relations Act, because that definition did not exclude the farming sector. A workplace was a workplace. Farm workers were employed and paid UIF. The definition of the work place could not be different in the case of farm workers. It had to be the same across industries.

Mr Nyekembe said the issue of how foreign nationals were treated by the agricultural sector had to be addressed. Employers employed foreign nationals with the aim of exploiting them. When the foreign national wanted to join a trade union, the employer handed him over to the law enforcement agencies for being in the country illegally and working illegally. The foreigner was deported, but the employer was free. Workers were exploited everywhere, but it was worse in the farming sector.

Mr Nyekembe asked FAWU about the Summit Outcomes. There had been a resolution about setting up a Special Fund administered by NEDLAC. He asked FAWU to clarify. He referred to an example FAWU made earlier about more than a hundred workers who embarked on a legal strike because the farmer refused to comply with the sectoral determination. Those workers were now dismissed because they belonged FAWU and they went on a strike. The workers ended up going to the CCMA which needed a larger budget to address these cases. The CCMA had asked the Committee to assist it to motivate for more money. During the Budget Review and Recommendation Report discussions, Members wanted to know why the CCMA needed and spent such a lot of money. It was due to employers of this nature that were making the work of the CCMA difficult. He noted that there were farmers who were prepared to do better than the minimum standards prescribed in the sectoral determination, but they were few and far between.

Ms Carter (DA) said in terms of Chapter Two of the Constitution she had a major concern with the utterances made during the course of the meeting. There were 40 000 farmers in South Africa which were each feeding 1400 to 1600 people every day. Someone said that only three out of a hundred farmers were good. Were the others all bad? She had been on oversight visits and met with emerging farmers who said that South Africans were not prepared to work on farms. They had to use Zimbabweans. The Committee Secretary would have the reports on those visits.

Ms Carter had a problem with the generalisations of the presentation where it stated that farmers did not respect labour laws. She asked whether this was true about all 40 000 farmers in SA. Submissions had to have statistics. On page 7, the submission said that, “Many research reports confirmed the experiences”. She wanted specific research reports that confirmed the experiences so that she could go and do her own research. Ms Carter said that SA was importing 800 000 chickens a day. This meant that SA jobs were lost. The country imported chickens for 20% less than they could be produced for locally. Regarding food security, there could be food insecurity in our lifetime. The time had come for the Departments of Trade and Industry and Labour to discuss the way forward from that perspective.


Ms Carter said that the stats on page 3 were of major concern. The presentation reported beatings and killings. It reported that the police did poor investigative work. She wanted statistics on this. The Committee was making a big mistake by listening to generalisations about slavery, no access to clean water and the living conditions of farm workers. The Committee should not allow people to do presentations without substantiated stats. It was maybe true for 1% or 2% of farms, but not of all 40 000 farmers in SA. Some of the most successful farmers that she came across recently were black. Were the presenters saying that those black farmers were doing these things to their own people?

Mr Du Toit said that the FAWU presenter said that a percentage attempted to comply with the law. This meant that nobody really complied because they attempted to do it.  He could not present untrue facts to Parliament. The presenter had to tell the Committee whether he was saying that not a single farmer complied with the law.

Mr Du Toit said that page 3 of the presentation referred to killings and beatings. Blanket statements could not be made. On 1 August 2009, a group of people forced entry into the offices of Agri-WC. Senior official Johan Bothma was locked up in his office and kept there for two to three hours, assaulted and abused. His human rights were abused. He had to be taken to hospital afterwards. The Human Rights Commission was dragging its feet with the case. This was an example of low prosecution levels. The press could follow the case. Was it the same Mr Benjamin of FAWU that accompanied the workers on that day that was present in the meeting?

Mr Abram asked if there were any officials from the Departments of Labour or Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries present. There was nobody and he said that it was a problem, because they had to be present in order to map the way forward. It was important to understand how widespread the abuse was. It was time that the departments had the capacity to track what happened so that the facts and figures were available. Compile the facts and figures and confront the authority in charge, so that a better system could evolve. The fact no department officials were present to say something about their interest in the matters before the Committee, undermined the ability of the Committee to carry out its mandate. Noting the lack of access to clean water, food, and houses by farm workers led to a question. Was FAWU proposing a system of agri-villages within reasonable distance for farm workers so that the necessary facilities could be created? The state had to come to the party to help create those villages. On the matter of illegal employees, he said if he had to cross the border without proper documentation, he would be sent back immediately. SA had a system where all and sundry could come into the country, and SA had to take care of them, while SA could not take care of its own people. Charity began at home.

Mr Abram referred to the recommendation that said: “National Government must invest in land, infrastructure and services, where farm workers were dwellers or beneficiaries.”  He wanted to warn the joint committees about that. He knew the agricultural sector. On restituted and land reform farms, the poor farmers were battling to keep their heads above water. They did not have the financial muscle to comply with the prescripts of the laws. Government would have to increasingly assist them. The Portfolio Committees had to see that the departments, over which it was having oversight, had the necessary “vooma” to do the work on the ground. It was severely lacking. The darkness was partially caused by government.

Mr Johnson said that the Joint Committees had to refocus themselves, and define for themselves what the next step had to be in this process. One of the major concerns was the difference in approach by the media to the injury or murder of a farmer, as opposed to a farm worker. The one made the headlines, the other one did not. In an area called Klipplaat in the Eastern Cape, an 11 year-old child was killed by a farmer. He said he thought it was a stray dog. He was released without bail. These were not isolated cases. There was a trend. These were the facts, without painting all farmers with the same brush.

Mr Johnson said that he heard talk about the Compensation Fund. There were huge backlogs with the fund and it had to hire consultants to do its work. The Department of Health left much to be desired. The district surgeon and police were always connected or related to the farmers who perpetrated the deeds, with the result that when cases such as these were reported, they ended up going nowhere. In Patensie in the Eastern Cape there was a flood of Mozambicans and Zimbabweans working on the farms. There were allegations of crime, but there were no records of these workers anywhere. The police had to ask the people from the immigration office who said that they had no access to the farms. The Green Police and the Green Courts had to cover an area wider than just environmental cases. Agriculture needed a dedicated justice system. There were not enough police. He agreed that a dedicated session was needed to focus on the fishing industry and the human and worker rights issues relevant to it. Workers worked around the clock when they were at sea for 20 days at a time. They were not treated humanely when they were sick.
Having heard about the events that took place in the provinces, culminating in the National Farm Workers’ Summit in July 2010, it was important that those results did not get lost, because they were important. They were supposed to take the situation forward, added to what was discussed during this session. Although the departments were not represented he felt that parliamentarians needed to have a session to discuss the issues raised by HRW and FAWU and decide on how to advance these.

The Chairperson, Mr Nchabeleng, said that all farmers were not the same. He was a farmer and he had never killed anyone. Farmers were not killers. There were criminals who operated in the farming industry, who killed people. Killers were criminals; farmers were food producers and were good people. There was nothing wrong with being a farmer. On his visits to farms, there were lots of things that emerged. One of the things was a conspiracy between doctors and lawbreakers in the Northern Cape town of Hartswater. Evidence of collusion was found between doctors and criminals who owned farms. Some doctors were going to lose their practices. Doctors could not lie to advance one person and disadvantage another, which was happening in this case. It was also against medical ethics to act on the basis of the race of a patient. These matters were going to be followed up. 

Mr Manamela said that firstly quantitive and qualitative assessments had to be done by government to gauge the extent of the problem, after which the necessary policy interventions had to be made. Some points were generalisations. People did not have to treat the observations by FAWU and HRW as personal attacks. It was fact that these things were happening. What was debatable was the extent to which they happened. Parliament had to hold the relevant government departments accountable to ensure that the laws were implemented. Parliament also had to engage all sectors involved such as the farmers themselves, the trade unions and NGOs working with farm workers and farm owners to bring these abuses to an end without being sensational.

[The first half of the meeting was chaired by Mr K Manamela (ANC) Mr M Nchabeleng (ANC), the official Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee presided over the second half]

The meeting was adjourned.




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