Various issues around farm workers had been discussed on 16 March 2011, and this meeting was a follow-up on the progress, as well as the resolutions and commitments made in 2011 by stakeholders. AgriSA reported that after the meeting in March 2011, the Green Paper on Land Reform was published and a National Reference Group was established by the Minister, comprising a number of working groups, to engage with the Green Paper. One working group was dealing with land tenure and all relevant NGOs and organised agriculture groups were invited to its meetings, where policy, legislation and implementation were discussed. Agri-SA had, as promised, made a Land Policy document available, setting out its views on expropriation, and had also provided a memorandum on mediation in land disputes. Agri-SA supported the suggestion that an independent institution should undertake further research, and asked that this research should consider the causes and extent of evictions, weaknesses in the legislation and its implementation, and general labour conditions on farms. It should then form the basis of the policy, legislative amendments and moves to improve implementation. A multi-stakeholder Land Rights Management Board, as envisaged in the Green Paper, could assist in defusing conflict over tenure rights on farms, and Agri SA was strongly in favour of using mediation to solve tenure disputes.
The Food and Allied Workers Union and Congress of South African Trade Unions gave their input, focusing on land and tenure rights, and pointing out that there were high levels of retrenchment and unemployment, over the last twenty years. Workers who had been retrenched often did not find permanent work again and relied on seasonal contracts. Many farm workers did not enjoy the full benefits of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, Labour Relations Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act. There was poor compliance on the part of farm owners, and lack of labour inspectors to enforce the legislation. Farm dwellers and workers also did not have access to government and other services such as housing, basic services, healthcare and schooling.
The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries presented the findings of a summit in July 2010, which had isolated challenges in relation to social determinants and health, working conditions, security of tenure and empowerment and training. Most workers in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors did not have access to basic services such as water, electricity, housing, sanitation and healthcare. Most were also not informed about their basic labour rights. The majority of workers in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors were not informed about the rights set out in the Extension of Security of Tenure Act, and did not have access to land to support their livelihood and economic activities, nor did they have access to education and training to empower themselves. In order to deal with these challenges, the Ministers of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Labour, and Rural Development and Land Reform agreed to amend relevant legislation. They also agreed to place a moratorium on privatisation of state assets, to refine and implement the Forestry Sector Charter and the Agri-BEE Charter, and to develop a Fisheries Charter to address transformation and skills development. They also resolved to establish a Vulnerable Workers Unit at the Department of Agriculture, at both national and provincial level, and to work with other departments to extend these down to local government level.
Members and other stakeholders asked for more details on illegal evictions. They were generally agreed that whilst there was some good legislation in place, it was often ignored and implementation and monitoring was problematic. They suggested that workshops were needed to re-educate farm owners and workers on their rights and responsibilities. They noted that despite the summit, nothing substantial had been achieved in the last two years. Other issues that were explored included the advice given by consultants, questions of payslips, whether Agri-SA was able to address the non-compliance with laws, deductions from wages, and what happened to workers who were too old to work, those whose services were not required by new owners, and those who were evicted. They agreed that provision had to be made for alternative housing for workers who had been evicted.
Chairperson’s opening remarks:
The Chairperson said that this meeting would follow up on the meeting on 16 March 2011, which had debated conditions of farm workers and farm dwellers. After that meeting, various non-government organisations (NGOs), including Women on farms, Legal Resources Centre (LRC), Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) and Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) had been asked to check conditions and give feedback. She also noted the recent publication of a report by Human Rights Watch on conditions on farms.
Agri SA submission
Ms Annelize Crosby, Parliamentary Liaison Officer, Agri SA, noted that civil society, farmers’ unions, NGOs and farm workers labour unions had, in the meeting of 16 March 2011, outlined various tenure-related problems on farms. That meeting had been called to debate possible solutions. The Portfolio Committee found, amongst other things, that the lack of credible information on conditions on farms and evictions was hampering progress. Subsequent to that meeting, the Green Paper on Land Reform was published and a National Reference Group was established by the Minister, with working groups, to engage on the contents of the Green Paper. One working group was dealing with land tenure and all relevant NGOs and organised agriculture groups were invited to its meetings, where policy, legislation and implementation were discussed.
Ms Crosby highlighted that Agri SA had undertaken to make its views on expropriation available to the Committee, and had done so in its Land Policy document. Agri SA was also fully supportive of the suggestion that research be done by an independent institution, but asked that this research should take into account the causes and extent of evictions, weaknesses in the legislation and its implementation, and general labour conditions on farms. She suggested that this research could then be used as a basis for formulating policy, legislative amendments and / or improved implementation. The Land Rights Management Board, as envisaged in the Green Paper, consisting of stakeholders such as government, NGOs, representatives of farm dwellers and organised agriculture groups, had the potential to assist in defusing conflict over tenure rights on farms. Agri SA was strongly in favour of mediation as a tool for solving tenure disputes. A memorandum on mediation in land disputes was made available to the Committee.
Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) and Congress of SA Trade Unions (COSATU) submission
Mr Gafieldien Benjamin, Parliamentary Representative, FAWU, said that over the last twenty years, massive levels of retrenchments had occurred on farms. FAWU’s research found that this led to high levels of unemployment. Most workers who might have found new employment were not employed on a permanent basis, but only for seasonal work. Many farm workers did not enjoy the full benefits of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, Labour Relations Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act. An inspection of 21 farms in the Wellington / Boland area by FAWU had found that only one farm (Mooiplaas) was fully compliant with labour legislation. On one farm the owner was forthcoming about issuing of payslips and said that he had been using outside consultants.
Mr Benjamin said that there was a lack of government capacity to enforce legislation because there were too few labour inspectors. There was also a lack of enforcement of minimum wages and permissible deductions from wages, and the hours were too long. The Department of Labour (DOL) did not visit regularly although in some areas the offices of that Department were not far from the farms. FAWU found that farm workers were not being paid overtime during in-season months. It was also difficult for FAWU to organise farm workers to join unions, as there was hostility of farm owners towards unions.
Mr Benjamin explained that there was a lack of access to land reform projects for farm workers. There was also insufficient support for new farmers and limited capacity of key government departments in remote rural areas. Farm workers and dwellers lacked f access to housing, land and housing tenure. In many cases, they also did not have basic services; on one farm there was no sanitation or running water, and farm workers were drinking water that was contaminated. Farm workers and dwellers also did not have access to healthcare, decent pensions, transport, and towns and shops. In many areas there was no schooling and training, and police, safety and security services were not available.
Mr Matthew Parks, Deputy Parliamentary Co-ordinator, COSATU, said that COSATU appreciated the spirit of partnership between government, NGOs and workers unions. There were, in theory, systems for improvement, but the implementation was lacking. He noted that research institutions such as Statistics SA could be used. Evictions were particularly problematic because it was difficult for those evicted to find alternative housing. Municipalities could not deal with emergency housing for farm workers as well. Government had to step up and take action. In Grabouw, for example, schools had to be built. Government should not wait for protests to happen before taking action.
Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) submission
Ms Shibu Rampedi, Deputy Director General: Forestry, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, outlined some resolutions from a summit held in July 2010 on vulnerable workers in agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Despite the fact that the democratic government had enacted progressive laws since 1994, workers in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sector were still faced with the effects of centuries of land dispossession. The four areas that DAFF had focused on during that summit were the social determinants of health, working conditions, security of tenure, and empowerment and training for vulnerable workers.
Ms Rampedi firstly dealt with the social determinants of health. Here, the summit had noted that the vast majority of workers in the sectors named did not have access to basic services such as water, electricity, housing, sanitation and healthcare. They lacked access to socio-economic rights, such as Registration of Births / Deaths, Identity Documents, social grants and social security measures. They were not informed about their rights under the Labour legislation, including the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. There was a lack of infrastructure and lack of access to new technologies. A significant number of employers did not comply with labour laws, and there was an inability by government to effectively enforce these laws. Human rights abuses against vulnerable workers were found. Child labour and unfair labour practices, especially by labour brokers, also came to light.
Ms Rampedi reported, in relation to security of tenure, that the majority of workers in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors were not informed about their rights as contained in the Extension of Security of Tenure Act (ESTA). The majority of workers in these sectors also did not have access to land to support their livelihood and economic activities, and this was due partly to the limited implementation of the resolutions of the National Land Summit of 2005. They also lacked access to empowerment and training opportunities, as well as science education in the fields of agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
Ms Rampedi said that the summit had made some important resolutions. The Ministers of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Labour, and Rural Development and Land Reform agreed to amend relevant legislation to implement the vision. A moratorium was to be placed on the privatisation of state assets. It was agreed to refine and implement the Forestry Sector Charter, the Agri-BEE Charter, and to develop a Fisheries Charter, all of which would address transformation and skills development. Another resolution was that DAFF must, at both national and provincial level, establish a Vulnerable Workers Unit, which would work with the Department of Labour, South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) to also set up similar units in the local government sphere. There was a call for the establishment of a Judicial Commission of Enquiry to look at the condition of workers in the fisheries sector. The current Steering Committee that was established for the organisation of the National Summit would operate as a delivery forum.
Ms Sue Middleton, Acting Deputy Director General: Fisheries Management, DAFF, added that workers in the fishing industry were also experiencing ill treatment, and so were domestic workers. DAFF was in negotiation with the Presidency to open a formal commission of enquiry into the fishing industry. In June 2011 a working document was developed to address critical issues for small scale fishers. The Department was also currently investigating the squid industry, and this would be followed by an investigation into the West Coast Lobster industry. DAFF also had ongoing engagements with FAWU. Some challenges in the fishing industry overlapped with those in the agricultural industry. She agreed that there was a lack of capacity to enforce relevant laws, as well as a lack of inspections by the Department of Labour.
Ms B Dambuza (ANC) Chairperson: Portfolio Committee on Human Settlements, said that she appreciated the progress made so far. She asked Agri SA how its policy proposal viewed the current evictions affecting farm workers and dwellers. Short-term solutions were needed, to ensure that farm dwellers were protected.
Ms Crosby replied that the meeting had not only involved Agri SA but all stakeholders. There were solutions, but it was essential that bodies work with each other. Currently, the negotiations were tied in to the Green Paper process. The Land Rights Management forum was established to help with this. Mediation by government and municipalities could be able to stop evictions, otherwise alternative housing needed to be provided. This was proposed even to the Minister. Agri SA felt there was a need to perhaps look at amending legislation. When eviction disputes arose, and were picked up by farmers and trade unions, then they should contact Agri SA.
Ms B Dlulani (ANC), Women’s Caucus, Portfolio Committee on Women, Children and People with Disabilities, said that there were many vulnerable women and children on farms. Legislation did exist but was not working. Laws were being overlooked. She wanted to know whether farmers were willing to adhere to labour laws, and commented that they were not taking legislation seriously.
The Chairperson said that farmers continued to evict as they pleased. These included legal as well as illegal evictions, and it must be remembered that not all those evicted had access to the courts to check the legality of their removal.
Mr B Zulu (ANC) noted that farm workers were not effectively granted rights, either once they became too old to be productive, or when the farm was sold and the new owner did not want to retain the existing workers. He wanted to know how these two situations could be rectified. He also noted that a person who died whilst in service on the farm could often not be buried there; in one instance he had heard of a person being kept in a mortuary for 13 months because the farmer refused to allow him to be buried there, despite the fact that there were other graves on the farm.
Ms Crosby replied that a burial protocol was available, to which Agri SA members had to adhere.
Mr S Ntapane (UDM) said that according to Lawyers for Human Rights findings, farm dwellers continued to be illegally evicted. Many of these cases did not go to court. The solution was not to wait for the problem to arise before dealing with it, but instead he suggested that farm owners and workers be given workshops to train them on their rights.
Ms Thandi Swartbooi, Representative: Women on Farms, said that she wanted to bring to the Committee’s attention a case that happened in the previous week. A family had been evicted, and the mother and her children, including a six-month old baby, were left sitting by the side of the road. Women on Farms wanted to hear solutions that would help these women and children. She pointed out that people were suffering on a daily basis.
Ms Fatima Shabodien, Executive Director, Women on Farms, said that this organisation had worked with Agri SA since 1994. Women on Farms had contested the methodology of every Agri SA report. She said that not much was being done to monitor farmers. She asked what would actually be done if Agri SA members were found guilty of breaking laws. Government did not have a tracking system in place. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform could not base its statistics on information provided by NGOs, as this was not reliable.
Ms Crosby replied that legislation required Agri-SA members to comply, and most issues of non-compliance arose where, for instance, farm owners did not know how to correctly prepare salary slips. It was difficult for Agri SA to enforce all these laws. Whilst Agri-SA could educate and train its members, it was not an enforcement agency. There were cases were farm owners behaved badly, and they should be punished where necessary.
Mr Vic Van Vuuren, Director: International Labour Organisation, said that this organisation (ILO) found that South African Labour Laws were good, but the practical application was not. There was also not enough monitoring and evaluation being done. The farming sector needed a regulatory model to govern alternative dispute resolution methods. The National Development Plan predicted that there would be an increase in employment on farms. The ILO offered an objective stance, and he said that the most important aspect would be to determine terms of reference on which everyone agreed.
Ms Nomagugu Ngobane, Attorney: Association for Rural Advancement, agreed that farm owners needed to be offered workshops on legislation. Lawyers were being shut out when owners had acted incorrectly, and they experienced no co-operation from these farmers. The matters were also to do with human relationships. Mechanisms were in place to safeguard farm workers and dwellers, but she too agreed that implementation was lacking.
Ms Crosby said that she agreed with Ms Ngobane that implementation was a problem, but suggested that this could be solved through partnerships. There was scope for workshops to be held.
Ms Shabodien said that the summit was held two years ago but there was still a lack of transparency on what was happening on a daily basis. She was concerned about the conduct of departments.
Ms Rampedi apologised that she did not have all the information available with her. However, she assured the meeting that there was a plan of action, with set dates. Even though these initiatives came from the Minister, resolutions should come from civil society.
Mr Zulu asked for clarity on the issue mentioned by FAWU around deductions of wages.
Mr Benjamin replied that on some remote farms, the farm owners had shops where farm workers could purchase goods. At the end of the week or month, farm owners would deduct the cost of these purchases directly from the workers’ salaries or wages. According to law, deductions could not be more than a quarter of salary or wages, but this was not always adhered to. In addition, these deductions did not appear on payslips, as they should. This caused problems in the end.
The Chairperson asked for more information about the problem of consultants.
Mr Benjamin replied that consultants would sometimes give poor advice to farmers, and sometimes this advice could be detrimental to farm workers, especially if they did not belong to any type of worker union. There was a need to look at the quality of consultants.
The meeting was adjourned.
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