Poor farmers may apply for wage exemption

Thursday, February 17, 2011
Siphiwe Nyathi

Polokwane - Farmers who cannot afford to give their workers the newly prescribed 4.5% minimum wage increase may apply to the Labour Department for an exemption.

Labour Department spokesperson Page Boikanyo said the new wage increase takes effect on March 1 and applies to all farmers.

"Farmers who cannot afford the increase due to financial crisis must apply for exemption. The exemption will take place as an outcome of an agreement between the employer and the employees," said Boikanyo.

He said applications should be accompanied by the financial statements of the business concerned.

"These will then be assessed by the department. Based on the assessment of these documents, the department will then be in a position to either give or deny permission for exemption," he said.

The wage increment for the agriculture sector is divided into three parts: an hourly rate, a weekly rate and a monthly rate.

Boikanyo said the hourly rate will rise from R6.74 to R7.04, while the weekly rate will rise from R303.84 to R317.51. The monthly rate from will rise from R1 316.69 to R1 375.94.

"Farmers need to comply and they must not pay any farm worker a salary less than this minimum wage, unless they have exemption," he said.

He said the wage increase was linked to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which presently stands at 3.5%. An additional 1% is added to this.

There have been mixed reactions in Limpopo over the increase.

Provincial spokesperson for the Food and Allied Workers Union, Nelson Semenya, said the increase was "an insult to the workers."

"Some farm workers are earning R150 per week on commercial farms. The increment doesn't even make a difference because most farmers do not comply with the law, they just apply for exemption claiming they have financial problems or that production was poor," he said.

He urged the department to ensure farmers don't submit fraudulent applications for exemption and to penalise those who do.

"It will take many years for farm workers to live a decent life and send their children to tertiary institutions. Some of them can't even bury their loved ones with dignity because they cannot afford funeral insurance."

National Emergent Red Meat Producers Organisation chairperson, Wilson Muvhalawa, welcomed the minimum wage increase, but conceded that many farmers could not afford it.

"Many farmers fail to pay their workers well because they depend on their production to increase salaries. Moreover, farmers did not do well this past year because of weather conditions. Even if some farmers are being fined for not complying, they are doing their best to ensure that our workers get better salaries," he said.

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