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How to improve working conditions in agriculture?

20 May 2019
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Working conditions

As a business owner, it goes without a saying that your employees are your most valued asset. This means taking good care of them is among your top priorities. However, this hasn't been necessarily the case with many workers within the agriculture fraternity. In recent years we've seen many protests from workers within this sector as they cried foul over various issues including salaries, treatment and more. So, as we bring this Worker's Month to a fold, we give focus to how business owners within this industry can better take care of their employees.

"If you want to hire great people and have them stay working for you, you have to be run by ideas, not hierarchy. The best ideas have to win; otherwise, good people don't stay." ― Steve Jobs

These words by Steve Jobs should be the cornerstone for every business owner as he builds his business, after all your harvest is only as good as your employees. This, of course, doesn't take away from the role that government can play within the industry not only as a mediator but as a stakeholder within the dialogue of how to empower the employer as well as the employee.

Let us now look at two critical pillars to improving the working conditions of the employees.

Employee trainee

It is a known fact that an empowered worker is a productive worker, hence employee training is at the top of our list. Through workplace skills as the business owner, you not only empower the worker but are directly planting seed into your business. The fruits of this seed can be seen through a more efficient workforce that inadvertently increases your production as a whole. The added benefit is that through submitting a workplace skills plan (WSP), employers can claim as much as 70% of their skills levy back. Several AgriSETA-accredited trainers are more than happy to do the paperwork for you.

Examples of course possibilities include:

• Tractor driving (5 days)
• Occupational health and safety (2 days)
• Health and safety representatives (2 days)
• First aid level I and II (2,5 days)
• Basic supervising skills (2,5 days)
• Basic fire-fighting (2,5 days)

Apprenticeships and learnerships offer you, the employer, certain tax breaks – and a workforce that is better skilled. For more information, you can visit the AgriSETA website at www.agriseta.co.za. In accordance with laid-down rules, AgriSETA will also fund certain staff training.

Employee wages

It is an old saying that every man shall reap the rewards of his hard work. One can only hope that as each man reaps those rewards, they are fitting to the work he has done. This brings us to our second pillar to improving working conditions for agricultural workers; EMPLOYEE WAGES.

It is a known fact that our country is riddled with labour-related protests and in most cases, worker’s wages/salary are the point of contention. The question is then what a fair wage/salary for a worker within the agriculture industry is? Well, what is appropriate or not is subject to interpretation which then leaves us with what the legislation constitutes regarding this matter.

Applicable from March 2018:

The minimum wage for farm workers is R3 169,19 per month (from R3 001.13 in 2017/18), a weekly minimum wage of R731,41 (R692.62 in 2017/18), a daily rate of R146,28 (R138.52 in 2017/18) and an hourly rate of R16.25 (R15.39 in 2017/18).

The National Minimum Wage kicked in on the 1 January 2019. Initially, the agriculture sector will pay 90% of this rate (equates to R18 per hour). From 1 May 2019, agriculture will catch up to the R20 per hour rate. Farmers who cannot afford the increase should apply for a section 50 variation. For updates, further information and useful documents do visit the Department of Labour website: www.labour.gov.za.

Now that we have established what is constituted with the legislation, we then need to cast our eyes towards the man hours that come with this wage. The conditions of employment and minimum wages for farm workers in South Africa are regulated by the Sectoral Determination No 13: Farm Worker Sector.

The Sectoral Determination No 13 stipulates that:

• Farm workers should not work more than 45 hours per week and not more than 15 hours of overtime per week.
• Farm workers are entitled to have three weeks paid annual leave, one day’s paid sick leave for every 26 days worked, three days responsibility leave per annum and four months maternity leave.
• A farmer may deduct an amount not exceeding 10% of a farm worker’s wage for a house supplied to the farm worker and may not deduct for the grazing of a farm worker’s livestock.
• Farmers are required to give farm workers pay slips and written particulars of employment.

As we conclude this month’s blog, it is imperative that we continue to value the importance of agriculture and the role it plays in our daily lives. From contributing to the country’s economy to its continued role as an employer to many across the country.

Like any industry, it has its challenges, but through the engagement of all relevant stakeholders, a resolution is always possible.

From us at Agri EC, we hope you had a productive Worker’s Month, make a comment with your thoughts and views after all this is our Agri EC.