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Minimum wage 'not just a thumbsuck'

Nov 14 2012 14:09 Sapa
Farmworker strike in Robertson

Farmworkers strike in Robertson. (Johan Cloete, News24 User)

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Cape Town - Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant and her department need to attend to the minimum wages in the agricultural sector, Cape Chamber of Commerce president Fred Jacobs said on Wednesday.

"This is just one example of why our current industrial relations framework is not working," he said.

Jacobs was commenting on the ongoing protests by farmworkers in various places around the Western Cape.

Among others, grape harvesters in the Hex River Valley have been protesting for over a week about their wages, demanding R150 a day. Most earn between R69 and R75 a day, with R80 being the highest and only offer from farmers so far.

Jacobs said: "We can't just suck a number out of the sky to determine what should be paid. We have to find out what the comparative wages are in the rest of the region. We have to go back to an empirical methodology."

Sectoral determination was a labour department issue and the minister should be addressing the rationale behind the decision, he said.

The current minimum wage in agriculture was set at R7.71 per hour (or R70 per nine-hour day) fixed by the minister. By contrast the absolute minimum wage for a worker in the public sector was R26.61 per hour.

What was equally concerning for business was the "continuation of this trend of ill-discipline and violence from disgruntled workers".

The chamber acknowledged the right to negotiate for a better living wage and better living conditions.

"We understand that our future depends on our current workers crafting a better life for their kids, with access to decent education and prospects.

"However, violence is simply going to result in job losses. Vineyards and orchards take years to mature and yield - it's not [like] an insurance claim on a piece of machinery that you can replace tomorrow.

"This will have a long-term knock-on effect on the entire export ecosystem," Jacobs said.

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farmworker protests  |  minimum wages
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