Farmers start retrenching workers

At least 2,000 farmworkers were retrenched days after the Labour minister announced a new minimum wage.

At least 2,000 farmworkers were retrenched just after the labour minister announced a minimum wage increase. Picture: EWN

CAPE TOWN - The country's agriculture sector was dealt another blow on Wednesday with the retrenchment of at least 2,000 farmworkers, mostly in Limpopo and Mpumalanga.

The Transvaal Agricultural Union of South Africa (TAU SA) said farmers who are under pressure because of the rising wage bill are shedding jobs in favour of mechanisation.

The new minimum wage for the sector was announced on Monday.

Farmworkers will now be paid R105 for a nine-hour work day. This will come into effect next month.

TAU SA President Louis Meintjes said his organisation received confirmation about the retrenchments.

"They've looked at their balance sheets and some of them said that they need to retrench more than half [of their work force]. The hardest hit are the milk and fresh produce industries."

Farmworkers embarked on violent strikes demanding higher daily wages in small farming towns across the Western Cape late last year.

The protests then prompted Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant to reconsider the sectoral determination.

However, Deputy Agriculture Minister Pieter Mulder on Tuesday said a blanket wage increase for farmworkers would not be financially viable.

Mulder explained not all farm owners would 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 was going to make it difficult for jobs to be retained.

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

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.