The International Labour Organisation noted its mandate is the pursuit of decent work which carries the objectives of productivity. The commissioned research stems from the 2013 farm worker unrest in De Doorns in 2013, which spread to parts of the Boland. The research methodology included labour intensive farm industries where ten case studies in eight provinces were conducted, with in-depth interviews with 48 producers and 208 farm workers and a group interview with 250 farm workers. The researchers also interviewed 90 key stakeholders from industry, the NGO and organised labour community. The deregulation of the agricultural sector, such as the closing down of the marketing boards was noted. The phasing out of marketing boards meant that farmers could no longer negotiate en bloc with retailers, like they did under the system of marketing boards. Marketing boards gave farmers more bargaining power in the marketing place. When marketing boards were closed down, farmers started negotiating with major retailers individually, which meant that farmers ‘collective bargaining power become fragmented. The researcher pointed to the fact that while farmers’ bargaining power became fragmented since 1997, retail power had consolidated. There was also less direct support via subsidisation and less indirect support with the withdrawal of tariff barriers and this has caused producers to become price takers.
During the period between 2008 and 2011, casualisation has increased. In the table grape production area of the Hex River area in September 2008 about 60% of workers were permanent. By October 2009, this had changed with the percentage of permanent workers dropping to 33%. By December 2011, the ratio between permanent and seasonal workers was still 34: 66%. . As a result of casualisation in the past few years, labour brokering has become prevalent in the labour intensive areas and internal migrations are also taking place between industries that have different seasonal labour peaks.
An assessment of available data on evictions in the Drakenstein area found discrepancies between the data provided by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (Cape Winelands) and that provided by the Drakenstein municipality. According to the DRDLR only 6 eviction cases were reported in 2012. In contrast, Drakenstein municipality provide three different sets of eviction figures for 2012: a)the number of farmers who had brought eviction cases was 31; b) the number of eviction notices received by the municipality was 91 and c)and the number of occupiers estimated to be evicted was 147. The DRDLR: Cape Winelands had no data for 2013. However, according to Drakenstein municipality, in 2013 the number of farmers who had brought eviction cases was 11; b) the number of eviction notices received by the municipality was 42 and c) and the number of occupiers estimated to be evicted was 63. Looking at the data provided by Drakenstein Municipality, it appears as if there was a decline in evictions between 2012 and 2013 in the Drakenstein municipal area.
In terms of compliance with minimum legislated working conditions, the study found that, in the case study sample, the Western Cape and Eastern Cape case studies scored high in giving their farm workers annual leave, whereas KZN and Mpumalanga scored lower. The Gauteng and North West case studies scored high in providing paid sick leave, whilst KZN and Mpumalanga scored lower. The study found a correlation between areas that were regularly subjected to ethical trade audits (such as Western Cape and Sunday River’s Valley in the Eastern Cape) and higher compliance with minimum wage conditions. As a result, the researchers suggested that the Department of Labour should consider closer cooperating with ethical trade bodies.
In the case study sample, permanent workers receive more benefits than seasonal workers when it came to funeral funds, medical loans, transport to social events, free housing, subsidised electricity, free food, free working clothes and access to crèches. Seasonal workers seemed to get the same benefits as permanent workers only when it came to transport to health services and transport to work, According to census data, farm workers in the Western Cape and Gauteng earned the highest wages. Applying regression analysis to the Labour Market Dynamics in South Africa (LMDSA) dataset, the study tried to assess how much less farm workers in other provinces are being paid when compared to farm workers’ wages in the Western Cape. The study found that that in 2013Free State farm worker wages were 24% less; Mpumalanga 24.5% less, Eastern Cape 30% less, KZN 31% less, and Limpopo a full 51% less than Western Cape farm worker wages.
Given that seasonal workers were often left without income during off-season periods, one of the recommendations of the study was that government should consider implementation of policies that could extend seasonal work, such as providing support for the building of more processing facilities.
The report concluded by pointing to the structural factors that impact on farm worker livelihoods. To this end, it quoted the report of the Bureau of Food and Agricultural Policy – which was influential in setting the new minimum wage in 2013. That report found that: "On the one hand, workers cannot survive on a wage of R150 per day; on the other, most producers will go bankrupt if the minimum wage is lifted significantly above R150 per day.” The report states that idea that the majority of South African producers has deep pockets and can easily afford to pay higher wages is a fiction. This research points to the critical role which government must play to enable worker and producers to break this stalemate. Trade liberalisation and deregulation have considerably weakened producers’ collective power over the last decade. The result has been that they have become price takers and are increasingly on the defensive to protect their dwindling profit margins. Government’s prevaricating statements on land reform have further increased producer’s perceptions of their own vulnerability. This research shows that as producers have become more pressurised, they have increasingly passed on risk to farm workers through the processes of casualisation, externalisation, and making further cost savings by recruiting workers off-farm. Government’s failure to take a value chain perspective of the industry’s woes has resulted in macro-economic policy that is increasingly weakening producers bargaining power in the market. Supporting farm workers without simultaneously supporting producers will be an exercise in futility."
The Committee asked why the drought was not included in the study as it is crucial to the problems on farms and to food security. An EFF member said the report clearly indicates the failure of the policy is due to a lack of co-ordination between various departments. An ANC member pointed out that the poor working and living conditions of farm workers is related to the private sector, and not to policy. Some Members said the inadequate housing for farm workers is the reason the workers are moving to urban areas, while others said it was due to the farm schools being closed down. Some Members complained that there was a sense that the ILO had failed to take into consideration the views of organised labour and trade unions, and that the researcher was sympathetic towards labour brokers when speaking about finding work for seasonal workers during the off season. The Committee asked about the lack of benefits for seasonal workers, how the farm owners dealt with education for children and for those with disabilities who are living on the farms. They disagreed with some of the items termed as benefits such as transportation and medical loans.
The Committee considered its business plan for processing the Extension of Security of Tenure Amendment Bill. The provinces identified as being hotspots for poor living and working conditions are the KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape, Free State and Mpumalanga. The Committee’s first public hearing will be on the 27 February 2016 to the Breede Valley. The next hearing will be on 12 March 2016 at Tugela River in KZN. On 8 and 9 April 2016 the public hearings will be in Mpumalanga.
A Committee strategic planning workshop will take place on 2 February 2016 between 21:00 – 24:00. The workshop will focus on how to best strengthen the work of the Committee. The department had also been invited to speak on its key policies for the next five years.
The Chairperson noted the presence of the Departments of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLF) and of Labour (DoL) and members of the Agriculture, Labour and Human Settlements Portfolio Committees. The Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Portfolio Committee was unable to attend. The Extension of Security of Tenure Amendment Bill should have already been processed but members of this Portfolio Committee in the Fourth Parliament had requested the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to conduct a study on the living and working conditions of farm workers in South Africa.
International Labour Organisation (ILO) briefing
Dr Joni Musabayana, ILO Deputy Director for Southern Africa, gave a brief background of the ILO. He thanked the Committee for entrusting the ILO with the task to conduct the research. ILO’s headquarters are in Geneva, and they are proud members of the United Nations, just as South Africa is. The ILO mandate is the pursuit of decent work which carries the objectives of productivity.
Ms Margareet Visser, Labour and Enterprise Policy Research Group (LEP) researcher, said the research stems from the unrest which took place in De Doorns in 2013, which eventually spread through to parts of the Boland. The research methodology included labour intensive industries where ten case studies in eight provinces were conducted, with in-depth interviews with 48 producers and 208 farm workers and a group interview with 250 farm workers. There were also interviews with 90 stakeholders across the case studies; these included industry organisations, trade unions, non-government organisation (NGOs) and government.
The state’s approach to agriculture since 1994 during the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) era focused on intense engagements with farm workers as there was a strengthening of security of tenure rights. During the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) era there seemed to be a withdrawal of state support to the producers. There was a deregulation of the agricultural sector, such as the closing down of the marketing boards; there was less direct support via subsidisation and less indirect support with the withdrawal of tariff barriers and this has caused producers to become price takers. Whether the policy has worked is debatable because the number of farming units has declined by 30% over the last ten years; average solvency of farms has declined to its worst levels in 30 years as debt growth has outstripped asset growth. The number of farm workers has also declined by 30% over the last 20 years.
The Orange River area was slightly different in numbers; in September 2008 the number of permanent workers were far outnumbered by seasonal workers, which represented 85% of the workforce. By December 2011, the number of permanent workers had reduced compared to seasonal workers, which represented 89% of the workforce.
As a result of the casualisation in the past few years, labour brokering has become prevalent in the labour intensive areas due to the need to recruit and coordinate labour and a number of internal migrations are taking place.
Ms Visser reiterated that more protection and support to farm workers is needed. She suggested that a change in labour legislation was needed to protect seasonal workers, with legal support, as well as rights training for both farm owners and farm workers. Closer co-operation between the DoL and ethical trade unions was needed. An implementation of policies to extend seasonal work should be looked into; it will help with the roll out of the Public Works Programme in rural areas during the off-season and support the establishment of processing facilities and post-harvest facilities that lengthen the season and provide more work to seasonal workers. A revision of the housing policy is crucial for providing more support for on-farm housing. Government should consider entering more private/public partnerships with producer communities to build more on-farm and off-farm worker housing in order to alleviate the housing burden on the state; provide financial support to rural municipalities to improve housing and infrastructure provision and improve public transportation in the rural areas.
Recommendations to bolster the bargaining power of workers in agricultural value chains:
· Adapt existing labour legislation to the fact that most workers are now seasonal;
· Eradicate ambiguities in SD13 to avoid interpretations that are harmful to workers (e.g. the granting of pro-rata leave);
· Change the Labour Relations Act to make it easier for both unionised and non-unionised workers to bargain collectively and take part in protective strikes;
· Facilitate the appointment of labour representatives on farms, provide or facilitate labour rights training to them and give them access to a regularly updated data basis of organisations that offer assistance to farm workers;
· Support paralegal offices servicing rural areas such as advice bureaus and legal centres which are acutely under-resourced;
· Facilitate closer cooperation between the Department of Labour and ethical trade bodies such and WIETA and SIZA to monitor on-farm training;
· Not ban labour brokering outright as these agents currently fulfill an important function coordinating seasonal work . If labour brokering is banned, another agent should be found to coordinate seasonal work. Different types of labour brokering should be better defined and regulated. Self-regulation of the industry should be encouraged; and
· Roll out the Public Works Programmes in rural areas during the off-season to allow seasonal workers to benefit from more work opportunities and a more consistent income (e.g. road building; brick-making for RDP houses.)
During this research both workers and producers raised lack of housing support as a key issue. It is recommended that the state revisit its existing housing policy in relation to farm workers. More specifically, the state should:
· Provide more support for on-farm housing (conditions for housing subsidies should be less onerous) to alleviate the burden on the state to provide housing to an ever-growing pool of off-farm workers. One of the unintended consequences of Extension of Security of Tenure Amendment Act has been increased casualisation of farm work and the accompanying trend of sourcing farm workers from local towns;
· Enter public/private partnerships with producer communities to build more off-farm worker housing;
· Increase the housing budget of rural municipalities to accommodate housing for seasonal farm workers;
· Improve infrastructure provision to rural towns, especially to improve water and sewerage provision; and
· Improve public transport in rural areas to decrease the isolation of on-farm workers.
The report concluded by pointing to the structural factors that impact on farm worker livelihoods. To this end, it quoted the report of the Bureau of Food and Agricultural Policy – which was influential in setting the new minimum wage in 2013. That report found that, "On the one hand, workers cannot survive on a wage of R150 per day; on the other, most producers will go bankrupt if the minimum wage is lifted significantly above R150 per day. The report states that idea that the majority of South African producers have deep pockets and can easily afford to pay higher wages is a fiction. This research points to the critical role which government must play to enable worker and producers to break this stalemate. Trade liberalisation and deregulation has considerably weakened producers’ collective power over the last decade. The result has been that they have become price takers and are increasingly on the defensive to protect their dwindling profit margins. Government’s prevaricating statements on land reform have further increased producer’s perceptions of their own vulnerability. This research shows that as producers have become more pressurised, they have increasingly passed on risk to farm workers through the processes of casualisation, externalisation, and making further cost savings by recruiting workers off-farm. Government’s failure to take a value chain perspective of the industry’s woes has resulted in macro-economic policy that is increasingly weakening producers bargaining power in the market. Supporting farm workers without simultaneously supporting producers will be an exercise in futility."
Mr M Filtane (UDM) said that the study had confirmed the main reasons farm workers have migrated to towns in the last couple of years. He asked the ILO what could be done to combat the drought which is currently taking place in the country because food security will soon become a problem. He added that farm workers should by all means be encouraged to stay on the farms and not migrate to the urban areas. Farm owners often create an environment that allows farm workers to migrate to urban areas; how can this be prevented?
Mr S Matiase (EFF) said that it is sad that eviction of farm workers is still taking place even with policy in effect. The report clearly indicates that the failure of the policy is due to a lack of co-ordination between various departments. He asked the ILO why the education of children living on farms had not been prioritised, and wondered whether there is proper schooling infrastructure on the farms and who is ensuring that these children are receiving the same quality education as those in urban areas. He said there were two things which promoted the migration of farm workers to urban areas; that being the lack of adequate housing and the fact that there is no transport for the workers to go to work on the farms. He said the reason the transportation benefit for both permanent and seasonal farm workers is the same is due to farm owners not having a problem transporting the workers back and forth, as long as they work for long hours. He did not agree that transportation is a benefit for farm workers because it benefits the farm owner more.
Mr P Mnguni (ANC) said that he felt that the study had not focused on evictions and the tenure questions which were asked by the Committee during the Fourth Parliament. The factors which affected evictions should have been clearly indicated. He noticed that the views of organised labour have not been taken into consideration whilst the study was being conducted. He told the ILO that the study should have ended towards the end of 2015 so as to also capture the events leading up to the drought and include them in the report as well. The problematic areas which the study has shown are permanent and seasonal workers and labour brokers; the presenter seems to be sympathetic towards labour brokers. Farm owners seem to be benefiting from seasonal workers because they can decide to relieve them from work at any time so as to save costs on salaries. He did not understand what Mr Matiase is referring to when he speaks about the failure of the policy because the working and living conditions of farm workers is related to the private sector, and not to the Act itself.
Mr A Madella (ANC) said that the lives of families have been affected by the evictions. The problems on the farms have been there since pre-1994. In some cases one will find that if the families are not working on the farms then they are not allowed to stay any longer; this is also a problem which leads to evictions. Farm workers are still earning below the minimum salary, the living conditions on the farms have not changed, farm owners have no compassion towards their employees and children with disabilities are forced to stay exist under the same conditions as those without disabilities. De-regulation has created more problems for the private sector and farm workers do not benefit from the profits.
Ms N Magadla (ANC) asked the ILO it listed ‘medical loan’ as a benefit for farm workers, and how far has the Legal Resources Centre gone to try and help the farm workers from being evicted, and improving their labour rights and working conditions.
Ms A Steyn (DA) said it looked as if the Department had not collected any statistics on the eviction of farm workers for the study conducted by the ILO. Who is responsible for the collection of data? She added that the reason farm workers choose to migrate to urban areas is due to the fact that schools on farms are being closed down. How will the children go to schools in the towns if they live kilometres away on farms.
Dr Musabayana replied that the research was constrained by its time-frame; hence the ensuing 2015 drought could not have been included in the study. A dialogue between the ILO, NGOs and trade unions was held in 2015 as they have to look at the three arms: the workers, government and employers. The ILO would not have released the report without conducting a dialogue between these three arms. The choice to ban the labour brokers is a choice of the government. An attempt to ban labour brokers seemed doomed given a recent ruling in Namibia – the provision in question is almost a cut and paste of South Africa’s Constitution.
Ms Visser replied that the historically are bad relations between farm workers, the government and farm owners cannot be denied. Structural changes to the agricultural sector has however exacerbated pressure on the sector, and farmers have passed on these pressures to the last chain in the link: farm workers. . The abolishment of marketing boards was a bad idea for the government to make because negotiating with retailers is very difficult. The issue of children not being able to go to school was not part of the project’s scope given to the ILO by the department or by the previous Committee. Of the off-farm permanent workers interviewed in the study sample, 88% said they wanted to remain in town. Likewise, the majority of seasonal workers who stayed off-farm, wanted to stay in town. The main reasons why workers who stayed off-farm wanted to stay in town, was that it was much more convenient to be closer to services, shops and schools. There were a number of trade unions and NGOs which were interviewed during the process of the study. She noted that the labour and working conditions on farms did not depend on the race of the farm owner, but the small sample of land reform farms in the study showed that workers who worked on land reform farms were much worse off than those on commercial farms.
Ms Visser said that labour brokering should not be banned outright, because labour brokers potentially play an important role coordinating seasonal work and in some cases helped seasonal farm workers to find employment in counter seasonal production areas. The government can also explore policies which allow for worker co-operatives as an alternative to the labour brokers. She was not implying that labour brokers are good but they often help seasonal farm workers find other employment. In the sites which the ILO researchers visited, the farm workers had not reported any incidents of evictions. She understands that the Committee wants concrete answers on farm evictions, however she is not a magician and no researcher can pull answers out of their sleeve. In the absence of data, one cannot make any definite conclusion. However, on the farms which the ILO had visited, no farm worker had reported incidents of evictions.
Ms Visser said that the global retail environment has changed which in turn has had an impact on the agriculture sector. It is not in the power of one stakeholder group to change the retail environment; hence the stakeholders should form partnerships to deal with the changing environment of the agricultural sector.
Mr Mnguni said that globalisation cannot be the only cause for the poor labour treatment of farm workers. He said that Ms Visser should have done an in depth analysis of the research instead of being negative towards the government, and more favourable towards labour brokers. The standard of living for permanent and seasonal workers was unacceptable. He suggested that the profits of farms in the Western Cape had to be considered against the wages paid to the farm workers.
Ms Steyn interrupted Mr Mnguni on a point of order. She asked him if he was questioning the integrity of the report.
Ms L Yengeni (ANC) replied to Ms Steyn saying that all reports which are brought to Parliament can be interrogated and criticised by the Members; their findings as well as the credentials of the people conducting the report. Parliament cannot simply accept any report presented to it. However, it is only when a Member personally insults the presenter that another Member of Parliament can call them out on a point of order.
Mr Filtane said that Ms Visser’s tone and the way she answered the questions seemed very sarcastic. He said that this is an insult to the Members and that such behaviour should not be acceptable from a researcher. He said that her actions during this presentation make the report very unreliable. He asked that she elaborate more on her answers, and that the ILO should re-assess the people whom it employs to do its research.
Mr Matiase said the reported showed that the African National Congress’ (ANC) policy has failed. He asked how the problems of pre-1994 on the farms can be solved, and more importantly how government can dissolve white privilege on farms.
Ms Yengeni said Ms Visser had previously indicated that the Western Cape statistics for evictions were not reliable but Ms Visser was able to conclude that the rate of evictions has gone down. How had she come to this conclusion? The report indicated that some farm owners are unable to pay farm workers the amount required; she questioned how Ms Visser got this information and what was the driving force behind this. She asked about the 280 farm workers who were interviewed during the study. How were the farmers chosen; what were the selection criteria; where were the interviews done and which labour organisations did ILO select to interview?
Dr Musabayana replied with an apology for the manner in which the answers were given. He said that if the Committee would like the ILO to look extensively into some of the issues which were brought up, it would gladly do so, and make that information available to the Committee. If the Committee wished, the research can also be conducted by a new set of people. He reminded the Committee that the ILO was asked to look into only certain matters, hence they are unable to give the Committee the answers which they are looking for. He said that the ILO is not in a position to answer whether it agrees with the labour broker matter or not.
Ms Visser apologised to the Committee if she sounded arrogant and said it was not her intention to offend the committee. She said that committee members probably picked up on her own frustration about the lack of available data on evictions and that she is sorry that she is unable to give the Committee the answers they are looking for. She said that it would seem that the Drakenstein has had a drop in the number of evictions; however the lack of data does not help to conclude on the matter. In many of the cases in which she had interviewed farm workers, no one had indicated that they had been evicted or knew of any other case of eviction. The farms which the ILO visited were randomly picked; farmer organisations, trade unions and NGOs provided them with a list of farms which they thought would be suitable for the research and the researchers picked a representative, balanced sample from this list The list included farms which were situated in different areas, the names of the farm workers were also randomly picked with both male and females included. The interviews were all conducted in safe places such as in an empty office or outside under the trees or in a remote area far from other farm workers and management. .
The Chairperson said that there are many issues which the Committee feels should have also been addressed in the report; those issues will definitely be taken forward for a further discussion. She noted that there are many other Committees which should have been invited to the meeting because the eviction of farm workers needs to be solved as a collective. A proper and robust engagement is definitely needed. The information provided to the Committee by the ILO has to be questioned like any other report brought to Parliament.
Extension of Security of Tenure Amendment Bill: public hearings business plan
Mr Tshililo Manenzhe, Committee Content Advisor, said the programme for the public hearings has been set up in such a way that the information reaches the smallest corners of the country. The provinces which have been identified as being hotspots for poor living and working conditions are the KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape, Free State and Mpumalanga. The proposal is that in the other provinces where there are not a lot of eviction cases being reported, they will have only one public hearing because there is a limited time for the hearings. Within the four identified provinces, particular municipalities were also identified as hotspots for evictions and labour related matters. He proposed that the public hearings start on the 27 February 2016 in the Western Cape. He told the Committee that if they decide to have the public hearings during the week the farm workers may not be able to attend the hearings, unless the farm owners agree to release the workers early. However, the weekends can also be used for public hearings.
The first hearing will be on the 27 February 2016 in the Breede Valley. The next will be on 12 March 2016 at Tugela River in the KZN. On the 8 and 9 April 2016 the public hearings will be in Mpumalanga.
Mr Matiase said the plan for the public hearings seems to be fine. The only problem the Committee may have is getting access to farm workers during the weekends. Public hearings during the weekend may not work because the workers travel to urban areas during this time to visit families, or they attend funerals.
Mr Filtane asked if the public hearings will not affect the local government elections during May. He reminded the Committee that some political parties will be campaigning during that month.
Mr Mnguni noted that the cost of accommodation and flights has not been included in the business plan; these costs should have been added because in the end they will affect their entire budget. He concluded saying that Fridays can also be used for the public hearings.
Ms Magadla commented that the travelling plans for the KwaZulu-Natal region are correct.
Mr Nchabeleng said the Committee is fortunate to have members who are familiar with the towns where public hearings will be held.
Mr Madella said that De Doorns and Touws River are situated in the same area and the public hearings in those towns can be done within the same weekend.
Mr Filtane reminded the Committee that they will have to get translators as well because most of the farm workers in De Doorns and Touws River speak Afrikaans.
The Committee secretary explained to the Committee that the alternate members of the Committee do not have to attend the public hearings, unless a permanent member indicates unavailability for the public hearing. The alternate member would then fill in for the absent member.
Committee strategic planning workshop
Mr Manenzhe reminded the Committee of the 2 February 2016 workshop. The workshop would focus on how to strengthen the work of the Committee. The Department will also be invited to speak on its key policies for the next five years so as to help the Committee determine the types of key interventions needed for the DRDLR to successfully implement these policies to improve the lives of the public, and what kind of support will the Committee need from the DRDLR.
Mr Nchabeleng said that the Committee needs to visit the Department so that they can get information on how data is being captured.
The Chairperson said the strategic plan is useful for the operational plan. A strategic plan should only be done once, and then reviewed afterwards.
Mr Manenzhe agreed with Members that the strategic plan should also be issued to guide both the Committee and the Department.
The Chairperson said the workshop will start at 21:00 in the evening and end at 24:00.
The Committee adopted the minutes of 4 November 2015
The meeting was adjourned.
- Farm workers’ living and working conditions in South Africa: Key trends, emergent issues and underlying and structural problems
- Farm workers’ living and working conditions in SA: Key trends, emergent issues & underlying & structural problems - based on research project commissioned by ILO (Pretoria Office)
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