Conditions of Farm Workers: briefing

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Meeting report

The meeting of the NOOP Labour and Public Enterprise

LABOUR & PUBLIC ENTERPRISES SELECT COMMITTEE
19 October 1999
CONDITIONS OF FARM WORKERS: BRIEFING

Documents handed out
Investigation into setting a minimum wage and conditions of employment for the agricultural sector (included in the minutes)

MINUTES
Ms F. Bhyat, Director of Minimum Standards at the Department of Labour, said that the Basic Conditions of Employment Act made provision for the Labour Department to make a sectoral determination in any sector. She then presented the results of an investigation into the conditions of labour and wages in the Agricultural sector. It is hoped that this will help to cement labour relations.

She presented detailed figures comparing agriculture's percentage share of GDP, it has fallen by -3.9 between 1970 and 1997. In 1998 only 5% of agricultural workers were unionised; union officials were often refused access to farm workers and there was much intimidation and victimisation. Very little training is available.

The average wage is R457 per month but half of agricultural workers earned R400 or less per month in 1995. The bottom 10% earned an average of R133 per month.
Huge wage differentials exist amongst individual farms and from area to area.
If one uses the poverty line of R650, (PLMC) 72% of all agricultural workers earn below the poverty line.

In enforcing a particular set of minimum wages and conditions of employment for a particular sector, the Department carries out an investigation, presents the report to the Employment Conditions Commission who then makes recommendations to the Minister. The Minister then publishes these and it becomes secondary law.

The Department aims to conduct broad consultations and to interact with all stakeholders.

When public comments were called for in the Government Gazette and newspapers at the end of August 1999, only 60 comments were received; 80% from employers and their organisations, 19% from workers and unions, including COSATU, 1% from consultants and others.

The Department is now in Phase Three, until the end of October 1999, and this involves workshops and consultations with regional stakeholders, NGOs and CBOs. It is hoped to complete the process and to publish the determinations by June 2000.

Ms Bhyat concluded by stating that although there is still a long way to go, there is a momentum in the face of significant denial of human rights to farm workers. She appealed to parliamentarians for support.

Questions and comments:
An ANC member said that 50% of the report on the conditions of farm workers was negative but Parliament will legislate to change the behavior of people, then they will have changed attitudes.

Ms P. Themba, ANC, asked how access to farms for inspectors can be assured seeing that many farmers were a law to themselves. She was told that often police help was sought.

Mr A. Botha, DP member of the Labour Portfolio Committee, attended and maintained that the grim picture presented is not typical. Many farms provide good conditions and have good relations with their workers.

Ms Sandra Botha, DP, asked how can we assist inspectors to ensure that laws are complied with. She also maintained that the grim facts in the report do not apply to the majority of farms.

An ANC member drew attention to the refusal of farmers to bury workers on their land. He was told by Ms Bhyat that this question affects also the Departments of Agriculture and Land Affairs and Home Affairs.

Ms Bhyat said research and workshops must continue in order to obtain a more complete picture.

Appendix 1:
Why unionisation is difficult
Geographical spread
Fears of intimidation and victimization
Inability of union officials to access farms
Huge educational differentials that exists within the employer/employee relationship
Structural inefficiencies and restructuring
Farmers fears and uncertainties
Incidents of harassment of union officials

Skill levels of farm workers
Very little done in establishing a skilled workforce
Substantial training provided for a select few
Most of the work done on farms is unskilled or semi skilled.
Male permanent workers most likely to receive training.

Impact of lack of training
Rural dwellers and farm workers, have found themselves trapped in a cycle which is very difficult to extricate themselves from. A lack of basic education has meant being forced to take the lowest paid, least wanted jobs in order to survive. But there has been no education or training for workers beyond a standard level five on farms

Wages in the agricultural sector
Average wage is R457 per month.
Half of agricultural workers earned R400,00 or less per month in 1995.
The bottom 10% earned an average of R133,00 per month, while the top 10% earned an average of R1065 per month.
The bottom and top 25% of workers average wage was R193 and R620 respectively.
The bottom 10% of agricultural workers earned an average of R133,00 per month, while the top 10% earned an average of R1065 per month
The bottom and top 25% of workers average wage was R193 and R620 respectively.
Huge wage differentials exist between individual farms and from area to area
African workers earn 7,5% of white workers in this sector.
The median wages earned in the sector for African workers was R410 where for white workers it is R5491.00 (farmers are included within this category).

Levels of poverty
If one uses the poverty line of R650,00 (PLMC) 72,% of all agricultural workers would earn below the poverty line (OHS, 1996).

Other issues
As shown in Director General's presentation, other problems on farms include:
high levels of exploitation
abuse of worker rights
problems in enforcing labour laws.

What is a sectoral determination?
It is a set of minimum wages and conditions of employment for a particular sector.
Sectors can be different but must be within the framework of Basic Conditions of Employment Act.
Department does investigation for each sector and presents recommendations to the Employment Conditions Commission
Employment Conditions Commission recommends to Minister.
Minister publishes the set of minimum wages and conditions of employment for a particular sector and it becomes secondary law.

What is the Department's approach in respect of agricultural investigation?
Set a floor of rights cognizant of the needs of the sector
Address concerns of both farmers and farm workers
Be mindful of and facilitate the transformation and restructuring in the agricultural sector.

INTENTIONS OF THE DEPARTMENT
What is the process to set the agricultural determination?
Four phases
One: Public comments
Two: National consultation
Three: Regional consultation
Four: Assess information
Five: Draft determination
Six : Publicity campaign
Intend to maximise participation and consultation with affected stakeholders.

Phase One: Public comments
Public comments were called for in Gazette and newspapers including those that reach farmers.
80 comments were received
80% from employers and employer organisations including SAAU
19% from employees and unions including COSATU
1% from consultants and others.
Ends August 1999

Nature of public comments
Comments very polarised
90% of employers indicated either that:
there should be no minimum wage
should look at wage structuring
a good relationship exists on farms
Employee submissions very short (one liners).
None of the submissions proposed alternatives.

Phase Two: National Consultations
Workshop and consultations with national stakeholders held
Objectives of consultations are to:
Highlight issues for focus
Plot a way forward for the investigation
Identify resources that would assist in the investigation
Ends September 1999

Phase Three: Regional consultations
Workshops and consultations with regional stakeholders, NGO's and CBO's.
Objectives are to:
develop relationships with the provincial role-players
set the tone of the investigation
engage in debate with the role-players
Second half of October 1999

Phase Three: Research
Research to involve
literature review
comparative country review
meetings with stakeholders
visits to farms
Also to identify sectoral focuses within agriculture
Ends March 2000

Phase Four: Assess information
Information to be collated and analysed
Proposals to be developed and put to ECC
ECC to hold public hearings
Ends April 2000

Phase Five: Draft determination
ECC secretariat to draft determination
ECC to deliberate on determination and advise Minister
Minister to approve
Determination to be published.
Ends June 2000

Phase six: Publicity campaign
Create public awareness on:
the contents of the determination
the benefits of complying
how workers can exercise their rights if their employer does not comply.
Education campaign with stakeholders
Ongoing

Issues for a sectoral determination
Investigation will need to look at:
Nature of the agricultural sector
Future prospects
Conditions in the sector
Wages and payment in kind
Employment trends

Concluding remarks
There is still a long way to go to
build consensus
develop appropriate options
Yet there is a momentum in the face of significant denial of human rights to farm workers
We seek the support and assistance where appropriate of Parliamentarians.

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