I am a fruit farmer in the Wolseley area and would like to clarify a few points about the so-called wage disputes happening in the area and give your readers a picture from an employer’s perspective.

Recently (Wednesday evening) there was a discussion on a prominent talk radio station on whether R80 was a fair wage for a farm worker. Firstly, I would like to paint a picture of what happens on an average Wolseley farm, and secondly, my take on this incorrectly named ‘farm-worker strike’, which hit the area really hard on Wednesday 14th November.

The minimum wage paid on my farm to general workers is R88 a day (which rises to R125 for more skilled farm workers), which, granted, is not going to make anyone rich, but is way in excess of the governmentally stipulated sectoral minimum of just under R70. I employ 47 permanent workers, and up to 30 temporary workers who earn the same wage.

For two-thirds of the year the general workers earn a piece-work on top of their base wage which can increase their income by up to 150% in the harvest period. Other piecework periods may be winter pruning or spring fruit thinning, where gains would normally be about 20% above base wage. Wages constitute 37% of my costs and my profit margin last year was below 5%.

The farm operates a creche for all farm children and infants not yet at school, and an aftercare/homework system for school going children. These two systems require three employees, paid by the farm. All school fees of the farmworkers’ children are paid by the farm (although only once per grade!! – kid fails, parents pay).

30 of the permanent workers reside on the farm, and naturally are supplied with electricity, water, proper sanitation/sewerage systems, rubbish removal and general house maintenance. This year the farm has been subject to an ethical audit by an external internationally recognized audit body (for export market access purposes), and also a routine housing audit by the Cape Winelands Municipality (along with various other production and SARS audits). There are no major non-compliance issues.

Farm workers’ doctor visits are subsidized by 50% for six visits in a calender year, and electricity by 33%. Those workers living in nearby Wolseley are transported to and from work daily in a safe manner for no charge. Various other ad-hoc perks may arise, such as transport to hospitals, funerals or sporting events, financial assistance or building material supplied to off-farm residents.

And I, as employer, would be very stupid to deviate from the Labour Act.

Hopefully this gives a reasonable picture of what I re-iterate is an average farm employee environment in my area, which is probably quite typical of many fruit farms in the Western Cape area.

Now it is quite obvious that this type of environment would not breed a “farm-worker strike” of the ferocity and intensity that occurred in Wolseley today (Wednesday 14th) and that has been ongoing in the nearby Ceres area (and other areas) for even longer. This strike was something orchestrated by outside parties (be it political or otherwise, but I suspect the former), which has had the large majority of the farm worker community very shaken. There is widespread intimidation. The workers are generally shocked and disgusted by the mayhem and damage which occurred.

Sure, there are a number of them who joined the bandwagon of looting and destruction and shouting at the cameras for a higher wage, but they are certainly not the source of this mess. The press must also be blamed for continually using the phrase ‘farm-worker strike’ bandied about by higher government, and I deplore the ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ nature of many media reports of the various strikes.

The source of all these strikes is NOT a farmworker issue. It is something of a much broader nature, which can very crudely be attributed to the massive poverty and unemployment in the country, which has probably been abused by groups with political agendas. How easy to blame the bad white DA supporting farmer, who mischievously mistreats his employees in a colonial apartheid era style.

In truth, we farmers feel we are working with fellow South Africans, who need us as much as we need them. We’re in this together, why would we treat our employees like dirt.

Philip Dicey

Wolseley

Published with the permission of the author.