FARM workers are being paid starvation wages because South Africa's agricultural sector has long been dependent on cheap, unskilled labour‚ says a report by the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy‚ a think-tank at the University of Pretoria.
The bureau's paper on the challenges of determining a sectoral wage for agriculture comes as talks between the Department of Labour‚ unions‚ various worker representatives and organised agriculture began yesterday‚ amid calls for a resumption of strikes in the sector today.
Strikes and violent protests took place in the De Doorns area of the Hex River Valley in the Western Cape in November‚ where striking workers demanded an increase in the minimum wage to R150 a day. While the report does not necessarily support the wage increase demands‚ it shows it is impossible for a human to eat properly on these wages alone.
But the report said farms could not afford to raise wages to more than R104 a day without introducing greater mechanisation‚ and although that could mean fewer jobs‚ strategic development of unused resources could ensure the sector's viability.
AgriSA has said not every farmer would be able to afford a wage increase to the R150 a day demanded by workers‚ a stance that has drawn strong criticism from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).
Cosatu affiliates have called for the resumption of agricultural strikes in the Western Cape. The Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry has voiced its disapproval of such a move.
The report does not presume that workers' health is not suffering because farmers are supplementing their workers' diets with rations‚ or because the workers are receiving government grants.
The Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy is composed of researchers from the University of Pretoria's department of agricultural economics‚ extension and rural development‚ the University of Stellenbosch's department of agricultural economics and the Western Cape agriculture department.
The bureau's report says that even if wages were raised to R150 a day‚ and even if one family earned two such wage packets‚ "the money is still not sufficient to feed them properly".
The report also argues that the industry would not be able to pay wages higher than R104 a day without‚ in general‚ being forced to restructure in favour of mechanisation.
It suggests that while this would translate into higher wages for the few workers who are retained‚ it could thwart the National Development Plan's objectives of using agriculture as a labour-intensive strategy for rural development and job creation.
The report concludes that it is becoming clear that South Africa's agricultural system "will not survive into the future"‚ because it will soon be characterised by fewer‚ more skilled and better-paid workers. – BDlive