Ill-treated farmworkers must speak up

Farmworkers experiencing unfair treatment have been instructed to contact the Department of Labour.

Many farmworkers in the Hex River Valley complain about their living conditions. Picture: Aletta Gardner/EWN

CAPE TOWN - The Labour Department on Wednesday asked all farmworkers experiencing unfair treatment regarding their wages and working conditions to contact its nearest offices.

Farmworker organisations are concerned workers across the province have experienced a backlash from their employers since the implementation of the new minimum wage.

The new wage of R105 was implemented from 1 March this year, after weeks of violent protest action at the end of last year.

Non-government organisation (NGO), Women on Farms said they have received reports that dozens of farmers are claiming to be exempt from the new wage without having applied for an exemption.

The department's Thembinkosi Mkalipi said, "According to the law farmers are entitled to apply for an exemption but if they haven't applied and are paying different wages workers have got to approach the nearest Labour Department office."

Last month government officials, including Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant, met with unions and agricultural sector roleplayers in the town of De Doorns in Hex River Valley.

Oliphant suggested that farmers unite and decide on a fair, equal and affordable wage agreement for workers.

There is talk of renewed protest action by farmworkers as many are not being paid the agreed minimum wage.

"That's why we've encouraged them to consider collective bargaining," said Oliphant.

"Precisely because when you do the collective bargaining you say all the farmers who are farming grapes, must come together and agree on the same allowance for all the workers."