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Thu May 26 08:51:39 SAST 2016

Farm hands desert jobs

Jan-Jan Joubert | 28 January, 2016 00:41
The study also found that many farmers in Limpopo were paying workers less than the legally required minimum wage. File photo
Image by: ESA ALEXANDER

Workers are leaving farms in droves to settle in towns and cities, parliament heard yesterday.

And the drought means a further influx is on the way, with 66% of farmers in the Free State expecting to lay off workers if this year's harvest is as poor as expected.

Margareet Visser of the University of Cape Town's labour and enterprise working group briefed parliament's portfolio committee on rural development on the outcomes of a study into the living conditions of farmworkers.

The study was commissioned by the International Labour Organisation in the wake of the 2013 farm labour unrest in Western Cape.

It found that farmworkers in Western Cape were by far the best paid in the country.

The study also found that many farmers in Limpopo were paying workers less than the legally required minimum wage.

Visser blamed the Department of Labour for the situation, saying it was not enforcing labour regulations, and not educating farmers or workers on the law.

The committee on labour, which was absent from yesterday's briefing, has in the past highlighted the country's lack of labour inspectors as the reason for continued poor working conditions.

Visser said there were many reasons why farmworkers were moving to towns and cities. Almost 90% moved because it meant their children were closer to school and they were closer to amenities, she said.

It also meant they had a wider choice of work opportunities.

She also pointed out that farmers were preferring to hire workers who did not live permanently on farms because it was much cheaper not to provide free transport, housing and other benefits.

Responding to a question, Visser said that the labour and living conditions on farms did not depend on the race of the farmer, and that the small sample of farms showed that workers on "land reform" farms were much worse off than those on commercial farms.

She pleaded with MPs to hold authorities to account for the implementation of policies.

ANC MP Pumzile Mnguni attacked Visser for being negative towards the government.

She said the difference in living standards between permanent and casual workers was unacceptable.

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