The National Minimum Wage Commission decided to hike the farmworkers wages up to at least R21,69 per hour for 2021, up from R20,80 in the previous year.
Agricultural organisations including TAU SA bemoaned the decision, citing the dire state of the economy and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on farmworkers.
“TAU’s threat to retrench workers because of this adjustment to the national minimum wage is intolerable. This reveals a disturbing level of entitlement and ruthlessness on the part of the leadership of TAU and others,” said Cosatu’s parliamentary organiser Matthew Parks.
“This hysterical response by TAU is reminder that there is still modern-day slavery thriving on our farms. Not only do workers experience extreme exploitation, but they also suffer from physical and psychological abuse in the workplace. Their precarious working and living conditions amount to one step above the grave.”
Parks said TAU SA’s response was understandable to a certain extent because for centuries, farmers in South Africa had “built fortunes through a crude system of exploitation that has seen farmworkers treated like glorified slaves”.
TAU SA said it planned to declare a dispute with Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi, which could halt the increase which was set to take effect on 1 March. Parks pointed out that the National Minimum Wage Act was legislated precisely because too many employers in the agricultural sector notoriously paid their workers extremely low wages.
“TAU and its dubious friends are disingenuous and insincere. They argue that their members pay farmworkers above the NMW yet when it is increased to account for inflation, they cry murder. The NMW Commission has proposed a reasonable 4.5% increase in the NMW this year.”