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Wage hikes not viable for all farmers

Pieter Mulder says not all farmers in the sector are able to meet the new farmworker wage hikes.

A farm in Wolseley. Picture: Aletta Gardner/EWN

CAPE TOWN - Deputy Agriculture Minister Pieter Mulder said on Tuesday a blanket wage increase for farmworkers will not be financially viable.

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant announced this week the new minimum wage for farmworkers has been increased from R69 to R105 for a nine hour work day.

The new figures were released after three separate farmworker strikes in the Western Cape.

During the demonstrations, angry workers looted shops, destroyed property and torched hectares of farmland.

Three people were killed during the violent strikes.

'FIGURE TOO HIGH FOR POOR FARMERS'

Mulder explained not all farm owners will be able to afford the new minimum wage.

"I think it's a mistake to determine it for the whole sector. Some farmers in De Doorns can certainly pay it, but some of the poorer farmers in Limpopo and even upcoming commercial black farmers can't afford to pay it."

He said the wage hike is going to make it difficult for jobs to be retained.

"Everyone is entitled to a minimum wage, but unfortunately for South Africans, it's a choice between a minimum wage or unemployment. That's the reality of the South African economy."

The Agricultural Business Chamber's John Purchase said job losses are inevitable.

"We foresee those job losses to be primarily for seasonal labourers and not so much for permanent farm staff. Permanent labourers who are skilled are already being paid above the minimum wage."

WAGES TO BE ASSESSED REGULARLY

Colette Solomon of Non-Government Organisation, Women on Farms, said that while the wage hike is not enough, at least some gains have been made.

"The R105 is certainly much higher than it would have been had workers not gone on strike."

The hike will come into effect from 1 March.

Minimum wages will be reassessed in 2014 and 2015, in line with inflation.

Oliphant said those farmers who could not afford to increase wages must show proof to her department.