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Famwu warns against minimum wage scare tactics

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The Food and Allied Workers' Union (FAWU) has warned government not to allow farm owners to use scare tactics as a means of not complying with government policy.

File image. Photo: Takaaki Iwabu/Bloomberg

The Food and Allied Workers’ Union (FAWU) has warned government not to allow farm owners to use scare tactics as a means of not complying with government policy.

This comes as the national minimum wage came into effect yesterday. Employers are now compelled to pay their employees no less than R20 per hour or R3 500 per month.

And as many return to work tomorrow, the Transvaal Agricultural Union of SA (TAU SA) however cautions that farmers may be forced to fire some of their workers if they are to comply with the new minimum wage requirements.

TAU SA president Louis Mentjies said farmers find themselves in a tight corner as they may be required to comply with the new policy despite it possibly posing a threat to the farming sector financially.

“We have no choice but to implement it.  But the government must realise that farmers could not plant much because there was drought. There is a big problem in the farming sector because of the lack of rain. There is big financial pressure on farmers and I am sure many will have to retrench some of their workers in order to comply with the national minimum wage,” Mentjies said.

FAWU general secretary Katishi Masemola accused TAU SA of using scare tactics, adding there is no likelihood of the farming industry collapsing due wage increases.

“Some few years ago farmworkers nationwide embarked on a strike. The minister had to adjust the wages by 32 percent in the agricultural sector from R80 to R105 per day. That adjustment did not make the agricultural sector collapse or shed jobs,” Masemola said.

Those in the farming and domestic sectors have however been exempted from fully complying with the national minimum wage and are only required to pay up to 75 and 95 percent respectively of the minimum wage amount. The exemption will last for only two years.

Organised labour in the meantime is divided over the new national minimum wage.

While Cosatu and its affiliates have welcomed the move as a step in the right direction in terms of addressing the plight of more than six million workers who were trapped in slave wages, rival federation, SAFTU and its affiliate have rejected it, including FAWU.

Masemola said currently the minimum wage was a mere pittance and would not improve people’s lives.

“The principle itself of introducing a national minimum wage in the country is accepted because many of us have been calling for it for decades. The problem is the level at which it is pitched. We reject that. The bar is too low and we think that R20 an hour for a person who is working eight hours is too little. Some of these people have to use this money for transport and some have families which cannot possibly be accommodated by this amount,” he said.