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Sat Oct 25 21:44:39 SAST 2014

Higher wages alone will not solve the problems of farming

The Times Editorial | 05 February, 2013 00:09

The Times Editorial: After more than three months of violent protests in Western Cape a deal has been announced intended to appease angry farmworkers.

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant said yesterday that the striking workers, who had demanded an increase to R150 a day, would get R105 a day from the beginning of next month.

In the months of protest in the De Doorns area of the Hex River Valley, three people were killed and millions of rands were lost in farming production and the destruction of property.

Oliphant said the announcement was "a testament to the government's resolve to respond appropriately to the plight of those who are vulnerable in society".

But, according to a December report by the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy, most agricultural sectors can absorb an increase of only R20 a day.

The bureau said that the gap between what farmers can pay and what workers need to earn would require creative policy and more efficient management of farms. If these were not achieved, the bureau said, job losses in agriculture would be inevitable.

There is no doubt that the wages of seasonal workers are low and that this needs to be addressed.

But Oliphant's announcement yesterday deals only with the immediate concerns about pay and ensuring that the unrest is stopped.

With higher wage demands for unskilled labour it is inevitable that farmers will increasingly turn to mechanisation, even as the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy stresses that it is precisely these workers who are unable to sustain basic living conditions.

All those involved in agriculture - farmers, workers, lobby groups and the government - will have to ensure that violence does not erupt again. They will have to determine a future for the sector that addresses its inherent flaws.

Anything else will merely be short-term intervention.

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