Pretoria - It is a fact that working conditions for many farm workers still remain far from ideal, President Jacob Zuma said at the National Farm Workers Summit.
"Reports state that long and unpaid working hours are still a norm. Most of the workers do not have any kind of insurance, including Unemployment Insurance Fund, which means their future is not secure," the President said.
He said farm workers do not have the opportunity and means to organise themselves, which means that they have very weak bargaining power.
"The status and conditions of women and children on the farms also needs attention. Since this sector is often isolated, it takes long before practices such as child labour are uncovered, which calls for vigilance by government and non-governmental organisations," Zuma said.
He urged farm owners and the entire agricultural sector to commit actively with farm workers to ensure that they also enjoy their basic rights.
"We must agree as farm owners, farm workers, government, labour and others that the Bill of Rights in the Constitution, especially provisions such as the right to human dignity also applies to farm workers.
"We must commit to work actively with farm workers to ensure that they enjoy these rights. They have right to basic services, education, health, social security and a host of others." he said.
Zuma said farm owners should know that farm workers have rights to pensions, social grants and all social security measures that the State provides to qualifying citizens.
"We will know that we have achieved a lot as a democratic and progressive society, when farm workers enjoy these rights fully.
"As government, our action plan involves the implementation of a comprehensive rural development strategy, linked to land and agrarian reform," he said.
The strategy links the improvement of the conditions of farm workers and farm-dwellers with the need to build the potential for rural sustainable livelihoods.
He said the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform indicates his government's seriousness in ensuring an intense focus on rural development.
"We are also mainstreaming the focus on rural areas. It must not only be the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform that sees rural areas as its responsibility.
"Our economic cluster must ensure that the efforts to create decent work also include implementable strategies for rural areas, so that the enjoyment of these progressive policies do not become the preserve of urban South Africans only."
He said the issues relating to improving the conditions of farm workers apply within the SADC region as well.
"We will therefore continue to engage with our regional counterparts to share information on best practices and strategies to improve the situation in our farms.
"As government, we will also continue to intensify our lobby internationally, against the food safety standards, tariff and subsidy measures imposed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. These measures stunt growth in our emerging economies."
He said an improved international trade regime will improve the bargaining power globally, and the spin-offs to the agricultural sector will also filter down to farm workers as well.