ATC151021: Report of the Portfolio Committee on Labour on an oversight visit to Mpumalanga farms, dated 21 October 2015

Constitutional Review Committee

Report of the Portfolio Committee on Labour on an oversight visit to Mpumalanga farms, dated 21 October 2015
 

The Portfolio Committee on Labour, having conducted an oversight visit to farms in Mpumalanga from 15 to 18 September 2015, reports as follows:

 

  1. Introduction

 

Parliament derives its powers from the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996. Section 42(3) bestows oversight of executive function to the National Assembly. Section 55(2)(b) empowers the National Assembly to provide for mechanism to maintain oversight of the exercise of national executive authority, including the implementation of legislation.

 

One of the functions of oversight listed in the Oversight and Accountability model is to ensure that policies announced by government and authorised by Parliament are actually delivered. This function includes monitoring the achievement of goals set by legislation and the government’s own programmes.

 

In compliance with the above, the Portfolio Committee on Labour undertook an oversight visit to the farms in Mpumalanga. The focal point of the visit was to monitor compliance of the farms to labour legislation, including Sectoral Determination 13: Farmworker Sector. The purpose of this report is to highlight the issues raised by the farm management and farm workers as well as the observations made by the Committee Members during the oversight visit and to make some recommendations.

 

  1. Background

 

The South African agricultural sector embarked on a process of extensive restructuring after the first democratic elections of 1994. The restructuring included deregulation of the sector in the form of phasing out of a protective tariff regime, a withdrawal of subsidisation and the abolition of state-controlled marketing boards. On the hand, the restructuring was accompanied by state intervention in the form of land reform and labour legislation.

 

The deregulation of the sector exposed the commercial farmers to competition with agricultural products from other countries. In some cases the competition was unfair as some of the competing countries were subsidising their commercial farmers. On the state intervention side, the Extension of Security of Tenure Act (Act 62 of 1997) was introduced, which made it difficult for farmers to evict farm dwellers. This led to the reduction in the number of farm dwellers as farmers resorted to employing local workers and use of temporary employment services (labour brokers). The research also shows that state intervention through regulation of minimum wages in 2003 was followed by a decline in aggregate employment on farms.

 

According to the 2011 population census, 757 127 households with an average population of 2.7 million people or 5 per cent of South Africa’s population lived in farm areas. Of this, 592 298 households with a population of 2.1 million people lived on farms (farm dwellers). It was estimated that at least 4.9 per cent of the farm area population was composed of foreign nationals.

 

Notwithstanding the increase in farm workers’ salaries as a result of the introduction of the sectoral determination, the farm workers remained disgruntled over low salary levels. This led to the farm workers’ strikes of 2012 in the Western Cape. The first strike of about 300 workers began in August 2012 on the farm near De Doorns after farm workers claimed that the farm’s new owner asked them to sign a new contract that represented a cut in their wages. The strike spread to nearby farms culminating in more than 9 000 farm workers in the Hex River Valley embarking on strikes. The strikes led to a revision of the sectoral determination, which resulted in farm workers’ minimum wages increasing by approximately 52 per cent.

 

Besides regulating the minimum wages of farm workers, the sectoral determination also regulates conditions of employment such as prohibition of some deductions from farm workers’ wages; working hours; leave; and prohibition of child labour.

 

Therefore, in addition to the stated purpose of the oversight visit by the Portfolio Committee on Labour to the farms in Mpumalanga, the visits had to be viewed against this background.

 

  1. Objective of the visit

 

The objective of the visit was as follows:

 

  • To monitor compliance to legislation with regard to working conditions of farmworkers, contracts of employment, provision of tools of trade and other matters relevant to conditions of employment.

 

  1. Delegation

 

Portfolio Committee on Labour

 

The delegation comprised the following Honourable Members:

 

Ms L Yengeni (leader of the delegation (ANC))

Ms FS Loliwe (ANC)

Ms S Van Schalkwyk (ANC)

Mr M America (DA)

Mr IM Ollis (DA)

 

The following support staff accompanied the delegation:

 

Mr ZC Sakasa, Committee Secretary

Ms P Ntabeni, Committee Assistant

Mr S Ngcobo, Content Adviser

Ms S Mkhize, Researcher

 

  1. Oversight visit to Inyoni Boerdery Farm (15 September 2015)

 

In the absence of the farm owner, the delegation was met by Ms Diaan Van Niekerk, the Human Resource Manager and Mr Alwyn Marais, the Production Manager of the farm. The managers briefed the delegation as follows:

 

  • Inyoni Boerdery Farm is a crop farm, which specialises in farming bananas, tomatoes and butternuts.
  • The farm had an establishment of approximately 461 farm workers.
  • The majority of the farm workers were seasonal workers.
  • Seasonal workers worked five days per week.
  • Some of the farm workers were foreign nationals from Mozambique. Foreign nationals constituted approximately a quarter of the workforce.
  • They were required to have work permits, which were renewed on regular basis.
  • Local workers came from various areas surrounding the town of Malalane, the furthest worker stayed 40 km away from the work place.
  • Some workers lived on the accommodation provided by the farm owner. Most of these workers were foreign nationals.
  • The working conditions were regulated by the contract of employment, which was drafted by Mr E De Villiers who is a labour lawyer employed by the farm. (The copy of the contract was provided to the delegation.)
  • The farm workers worked from 09h00 until 16h00, amounting to 9 working hours per day.
  • The farm used the biometric clocking system to monitor working hours.
  • Workers who arrived at work after the workers have been assigned to their daily tasks were regarded as late and not allowed to work for that particular day. The principle of no-work-no-pay applied under these circumstances.
  • The farm complied with the sectoral determination, which gave the Mozambican farmers an unfair advantage since they were paying R1200 per month per worker.
  • About half of the workforce belonged to the Food and Allied Workers’ Union (FAWU), which is an affiliate of COSATU.
  • Workers were provided with protective clothing. They were provided with two overalls each per annum. Workers were not required to pay for protective clothing.
  • The farm did not provide transport for workers. Workers used public transport.
  • The farm had a provident fund in place for its workers.

 

  1. Committee Findings:

 

After meeting with the workers during a walk-about in the farm, the delegation made the following findings:

 

  • Working hours were between 06h00 and 16h00.
  • Workers were paid R2 600 per month.
  • Uniforms were only provided to permanent workers.
  • Workers who used chemical fertilisers were provided with one dust mask per week.
  • These workers complained of suffering from effects of chemicals such as headaches and drowsiness.
  • Workers were not provided with proper washing facilities. They used cut drums as washing basins. There was no privacy where they washed.
  • The toilets were unhygienic and constituted a health hazard.
  • The farm owner provided houses with two bedrooms, kitchen and a dining room per house.
  • An amount of R180 was deducted per person for accommodation.
  • The houses were found in a state of disrepair but there was a company on premises busy repairing showers and toilets. They estimated that they would finish repairs the following week. The production manager informed the delegation that after showers and toilets, roofs, doors and other broken things would be fixed.

 

  1. Oversight visit to UMbhaba Estates (16 September 2015)

 

The Parliament delegation was met by Mr Roy Plath, who is the founder and owner of the UMbhaba Estates. Mr Plath briefed the delegation as follows:

 

  • The farm was founded by Mr Roy Plath and his wife in 1979.
  • The farm cultivated mainly bananas. Moreover, the farm had approximately 150 Nguni cattles and some game for hunting.
  • The farm grew bananas organically to European Union standards. This implies that no chemicals are used in the process of growing bananas.
  • The farm extended over approximately 2400 hectors of land, of which approximately 1500 comprised banana farming.
  • The farm employed about 1300 workers in five workplaces. Each workplace employed between 200 and 300 workers.
  • The farm used to employ more workers until the sectoral determination of 2013 increased the minimum wages by 52 percent. More than 500 workers lost their jobs following this increase.
  • The farm used to have about 480 temporal workers on a three months contract and was considering taking them on permanent employment. The 52 percent increase in minimum wages made it impossible for the farm to continue with that plan. The farm did not employ more workers since that wage increase of 2013.
  • The farm reduced the number of foreign workers, mainly from Mozambique, drastically after the xenophobic attacks. The number of Mozambican workers was reduced from 300 to 117. The difficulty of legalising the foreign workers also contributed to the reduction in the number of Mozambican workers.
  • The increase in minimum wages disadvantaged the South African farmers who are competing with Mozambican farmers. The Mozambican farmers pay far less than what the South African farmers are required to pay their workers. Moreover, the Mozambican farmers are not required to observe strict regulations like their South African counterparts.
  • However, the farm was constantly innovating to counter the above-mentioned disadvantage.
  • The majority of the workers were unskilled.
  • The farm complied with the sectoral determination with regard to minimum wages.
  • The farm experienced a challenge of criminal activities such as the attempted hijacking of one of their truck drivers. As a result, the farm spent approximately R253 000 per month on security.
  • The unreliable supply of electricity by Eskom resulted in the farm incurring expenses for buying the huge generator to ensure that the running of the business is not interrupted by intermittent electricity supply.
  • The owner felt that the CCMA commissioners were biased against employers. However, he did not refer to any specific case of biasness.
  • The owner also complained about red tape when trying to register the busses for transporting workers.

 

  1. Committee Findings

 

After meeting with the workers and a walk-about in the farm, the delegation made the following findings:

 

  • The majority of workers in the packaging section of the farm were females.
  • All the workers in this section were wearing uniforms.
  • The farm provided decent accommodation for workers. However, only a few workers stayed in the farm since most of them preferred to stay with their families in villages.
  • About four workers shared a house and they paid R100 per month per worker.
  • The houses occupied by senior workers had fitted kitchen cupboards.
  • All houses that the delegation was taken into had running water, electricity and the solar geyser system.
  • Some workers were employed by the farm in the year 2000 but still earn R2 600 per month.
  • The weeds in the fields were removed using hoes since UMbhaba Estate is engaged in organic farming and therefore cannot use chemicals to destroy weeds. This method helped in jobs preservation since the mechanised methods led to loss of jobs.
  • The field workers reported to work from 07h00 to 16h45.
  • They reported that they work Monday to Friday and earn R2 580 per person per month.
  • The workers who stayed in Mangweni village reported that they paid R430 per month for transport.

 

  1. Oversight visit to Nhlumi Farm (17 September 2015)

 

The Parliament delegation was met by farm managers Mr Johan Nel and Mr Jason Rossouw. The managers briefed the delegation as follows:

 

  • The farm comprised two farms, which split in part of April 2014. The Nhlumi farm is owned by a group of shareholders and Mr Rossouw is part of the group.
  • The farm employed a full time clerk who is responsible for administrative duties.
  • Nhlumi farm cultivated bananas, mangoes and sugar cane. The fungicide called Chronos 45 whose active ingredient is Prochloraz was used for washing bananas to prevent them from rotting.
  • The farm extended over 185 hectors of land with bananas covering 120, mango 30 and sugar cane 35 hectors.
  • The farm employed a total of 238 farm workers. All farm workers were employed on permanent contracts. Some of the workers that Nhlumi inherited were Mozambicans. These workers were legal until the change in immigration laws administered by Home Affairs.
  • A biometric clocking system was used in the farm as from August 2015.
  • Since becoming a stand-alone farm, Nhlumi built change rooms for workers in packaging section. The farm also built change rooms for field workers.
  • The farm owners also provided accommodation for its single male and female workers. The geysers are being tested for use in the compounds for single workers.
  • According to farm management, there has been steady improvement in the working conditions of workers since 2014, i.e. following the split from the other farm.
  • The farm owners intended to refurbish the accommodation for married workers.
  • The farm trained one of its female workers in first aid and bought the first aid kit to enable her to attend to minor occupational injuries. Serious injuries were referred to the clinic or hospital.
  • The farm did not charge workers who are injured on duty for transporting them to the hospital. However, sick workers are charged R92 per kilometre for transport to hospital. The reason for charging sick workers was explained as prevention of abuse.

 

  1. Committee Findings

 

After walking about and meeting the workers, the delegation made the following findings:

 

  • The workers’ accommodation was not in a good state of hygiene. Each house was occupied by two workers. The toilets were outside the houses and not flushable. The showers were not tiled and did not have shower heads. Only five female workers from Mozambique were provided with accommodation.
  • The workers complained of not being provided with uniforms. They were not issued with gloves when working in the sugar cane fields. Those workers who work with chemicals were provided with dust masks but not gloves. They were not provided with rain coats for rainy days. However, Mr Nel explained that the rain coats were given to supervisors to distribute to workers.
  • The foreign workers complained of not being familiar with procedures for renewal of passports. The farm manager supported the renewal of passports and was of the opinion that it would make it possible for workers to open bank accounts and have their salaries paid into their bank accounts.
  • The workers complained about not getting yearly bonuses.
  • The field workers complained about dangers of snakes. One worker said she was bitten by a snake in 2012. She was taken to clinic and the clinic referred her to the hospital. She did not pay for the transport that took her to hospital and was paid for the period she was off sick.
  • One worker was bitten by a wasp and sent to the clinic where she was treated and put off for two days. She said that she was not paid for those two days she was not at work.
  • There was a complaint about the employer not accepting sick notes from the clinic.
  • Workers work an average of 19 days a month and eight hours per day and their salaries fluctuate between R1 700 and R1 800. Their salaries are calculated at R13.37 per hour. They complained that they were not told in advance when they are to work on a Saturday. This was an inconvenience for them because they incurred extra travelling costs. Workers complained of being turned away when it rained and only paid for the hours worked.
  • All workers in a particular area are made to pay when the working tools get lost.

 

  1. Oversight visit to Tomahawk Farm (17 September 2015)

 

The delegation was met by farm management led by Mr Guy Mc Cormack, who briefed them as follows:

 

  • Tomahawk is a land restitution farm and the beneficiary is the Matsamo community.
  • Tomahawk management had a five year lease to the farm and paid a R4 million rent per annum to the Matsamo community. Tomahawk will enter into a joint venture with the Matsamo community when the lease expires. The current management took over the farm as a going concern. Transfer of business as a going concern is regulated by section 197 of the Labour Relations Act, which provides that if a transfer of business takes place, the new employer is automatically substituted in the place of the old employer in respect of all contracts of employment in existence immediately before the date of transfer.
  • The terms of the lease agreement included maintaining the farm in a good condition.
  • There was a steering committee responsible for overseeing the management of the farm and it comprised equal number of the current farm management and representatives of the Matsamo community. The representatives of the Matsamo community are skilled and can participate effectively in the management of the farm. They included a lawyer and a professor.
  • Other members of the Matsamo community who showed potential were sent to study in the field of agriculture at the University of Free State to prepare them for management positions.
  • The Tomahawk management made a commitment to uplift the Matsamo community by, amongst other things, employing community members in the farm and involving the community representatives in the management of the farm.
  • The farm extended over 1700 hectors of land with sugar cane covering 600, citrus fruits 330, litchi 150, mangoes 90, bananas 230, paw-paw approximately 20 and vegetables between 20 and 40 hectors of land. The farm exported litchi and citrus fruits. Other produce was meant for the local market.
  • The farm employed 860 workers and the ratio of women to men was 55: 45 respectively.
  • The farm provided accommodation for 100 of its workers. The farm did not employ foreign nationals but have some that it inherited from the previous owners.
  • The working hours were from 06h00 to 15:00 with 30 minutes tea break and 30 minutes lunch break.
  • The farm issued uniforms once a year and replace during the course of the year when necessary e.g. when worn out.
  • When it rains, workers stopped working but returned to work when the rain was over. Workers were paid for the full day’s work once they reported for duty.
  • Workers qualified for paid sick leave as per government policy and were referred to the clinic for injuries on duty without incurring any personal costs.

 

  1. Committee findings

 

After walking about and communicating to the workers, the Committee made the following findings:

 

  • The workers informed the delegation that they were working 21 days per month and getting paid R2 200.
  • Most workers were wearing uniforms.
  • Workers who were washing bananas in the packaging section were not wearing gloves.
  • The worker who was cutting bananas from the stalk before washing was wearing torn gloves.
  • The workers’ accommodation were single rooms serving as bedroom, kitchen and dining room.
  • The workers used communal showers, which were in a bad condition. The showers were not tiled and did not have shower heads.
  • There were no windows or any form of ventilation in the communal showers.

 

  1. Oversight visit to Mbhono Farm (18 September 2015)

 

The parliamentary delegation was met by Senior Production Manager, Mr Kobus Botha and the Human Resources Manager, Mr Sidwell Thumbathi. Mr Botha briefed the delegation as follows:

 

  • The farm was a land claim farm registered as Bono Farm Management (Pty) Ltd.
  • The farm covered approximately 200 hectors of land.
  • It was taken over by Bono management in March 2012 to manage on behalf of the Matsamo community.
  • The previous owners stripped the farm of all their investments when they left. They stopped farming original cash crops and started farming vegetables before they left. Therefore, Bono management had to start business production from the scratch.
  • Bono management entered into a joint juncture with the Matsamo community in October 2014. The ownership ratio was 55:45 in favour of the Matsamo community.
  • Bono management took over the farm from the previous owners as a going concern. This implied that it took over all the workers that were employed by the previous owners.
  • The farm employed 380 workers on permanent basis and an additional 400 workers on a temporal basis during the “litchi season”. The litchi packing season had a high volume of work that had to be done over a short space of time.
  • The new management only employed workers to replace those lost through natural attrition such as retirement and death.
  • The majority of the workers lived in the surrounding villages and used public transport to and from work. Only about 30 foreign workers lived in the accommodation provided by the farm owners.
  • All workers had employment contracts and were provided with copies of contracts for their records.
  • Workers earn a minimum of R13.37 per hour in accordance with the sectoral determination 13: Farmworkers.
  • Workers had bank accounts and their salaries were deposited into their accounts.
  • The only salary deduction that was implemented by management was for union membership.
  • The farm management was working with the Department of Labour to assist the foreign workers with work-permits’ challenges.
  • The farm specialised in bananas, sugar cane, mango and litchi farming.

 

  1. Committee Findings

 

After walking about and interacting with the workers, the Committee made the following findings:

 

  • One employee who had worked in the farm for nine years still earned R2 600 per month.
  • Workers were working in their own clothes.
  • Most workers stayed in the village and were travelling by bus to and from work. They paid R370 per month for bus fare.
  • Workers worked from Monday to Friday.
  • The workers informed the delegation that they were not turned away when it rained. They were paid for being on duty even when it rained. They, however, complained of not being provided with rain coats.
  • The majority of the injuries on duty were self-inflicted when cutting bananas off the trees. The snake bites were rare.
  • The workers injured on duty were transported to the clinic and were not required to pay for the transport.
  • One worker received a letter from the doctor recommending that she be assigned duties that do not worsen her medical condition and the employer had not acted on the recommendation.
  • The farm provided houses had two bedrooms and a kitchen. The kitchen had a fire place that was used for cooking since the farm did not have electricity.
  • The communal toilets and showers were in an unhygienic state. The showers were not tiled and had no shower heads.

 

  1. OVERALL COMMITTEE FINDINGS

 

After visiting the five farms in Mpumalanga province, the Committee made the following findings:

 

  • The farm workers population of Mpumalanga comprised a substantial number of foreign nationals.
  • Some of the foreign nationals working on farms don’t have necessary documents required of immigrant workers.
  • A small fraction of the population of farm workers are farm dwellers and most of them are foreign nationals.
  • The ablution facilities in most farms were unhygienic, constituting a health hazard.
  • Most workers reported their monthly instead of daily earnings. This created a problem in determining compliance to sectoral wage since they don’t work the same number of hours.
  • Most farm workers did not recognise sick notes from the clinics for purposes of paid sick leave.
  • Some farms did not provide protective clothing to all workers.
  • The farmers complained of competition from farmers in neighbouring countries who they say have lesser labour costs.

 

  1. OVERALL RECOMMENDATIONS

 

The Portfolio Committee on Labour recommends that the Minister of Labour consider the following:

 

  • Cooperation between all stakeholders who are active in the agricultural sector should be facilitated by government for the well-being of the sector as a whole. Relevant stakeholders might include local government involvement in providing services to the sector; Human Settlements for provision of houses for farm workers staying off-farms; and the Department of Basic Education in building schools for children of farm workers.
  • Cooperation between the farm owners and organised labour active in the agricultural sector must be facilitated to ensure that the sector has influence over the price of their produce.
  • The Department of Home Affairs has to be more involved in ensuring that foreign nationals employed in farms have necessary documents for being employed in South Africa.
  • The inspectors of the Department of Labour should be more visible on farms to enforce legislation and also assist the farm owners to adhere to relevant legislation. As such, the Malalane Labour Centre inspectorate and enforcement services should make follow up visits to the farms visited by the Committee, following which the Department should report back to Parliament on progress made in improving working conditions and health and safety of the workers in these farms.  
  • The inspectors of the Department of Labour have to educate the farmers on the sick leave provision of the Sectoral Determination 13: Farm Worker Sector. The Sectoral Determination provides that a medical certificate may be provided by a medical practitioner; a clinical nurse practitioner; a traditional healer; a community health worker; a psychologist; any other person who is certified to diagnose and treat patients and who is registered with a professional council established by an Act of Parliament; or any other health professional authorised to diagnose medical conditions.

 

The Department of Labour should report back to the Portfolio Committee on Labour on progress made with regard to the above-mentioned recommendations within three months after the report has been adopted by the National Assembly.

 

Report to be considered.

 

 

 

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