Cape Town - The retrenchment of 2 000 workers by farmers in the wake of the new minimum daily wage of R105 could be the tip of the iceberg, reported West Cape News
The new mininum wage for farmworkers, following violent protests in the Western Cape, has sparked fears that the sector could shed up to half of its workforce.
Analysts warn the sector will undergo a wave of job losses in the long run that could reach 200 000 as the wage bill almost doubles.
“The latest sectoral determination has just accelerated a long-term trend,” said SA Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) deputy chief executive Frans Cronje
Cronje believes a further 20% to 30% of people would lose their jobs by year-end.
“The 2 000 job losses reported this week are just the beginning of a figure to grow to 100 000, perhaps 200 000, over the long term.”
Agri Western Cape CEO Karl Opperman said up to 50% of the agricultural workforce could be out of work in five years’ time if a solution is not found.
Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies director Andries du Toit said neither the farmworkers nor the farmers were to blame for the current dilemma.
“The core of the problem is in the power relations between retailers and farmers.”
He added that farmers are under great pressure by retailers buying export produce. For every British pound, 20 pence went to the producer and 40 pence to the retailer, Du Toit said.
A survey by the SAIRR revealed on Thursday that in 2001, 969 000 people were employed in the agricultural sector, but this had declined to 638 000 by 2012.
On Friday, Congress of SA Trade Unions Western Cape secretary Tony Ehrenreich
said: "The dismissal threats are nothing more than an effort to spite workers and the government... this is an act of hostility by the farmers."
Ehrenreich called on farmers struggling to pay the new minimum wages to apply for an exemption, as the law prescribes.
Responding to the new wage, Agri SA said the increase would have "drastic implications" in the sector.
"This is especially true for labour-intensive sub-sectors where individual farmers will now have to make tough decisions on adjustments to ensure their sustainability," said Agri SA president Johannes Möller at the time.
Business Unity SA on Friday urged that a balance be found in creating sustainable jobs.
"Busa remains committed to constructive discussions that will ensure the sustainability of commercial agriculture, as well as basic proper living and working conditions," it said.
Farmworkers in the Western Cape's De Doorns area went on strike last year, demanding R150 a day.
The new rate, which is R36 more than the current minimum wage of R69 a day, will take effect from March 1.
Follow Fin24 on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest.