Farmworkers want government to take tough measures against farmers

Minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi said that he will be meeting with farmers organisation to talk about non-compliance and access to farms. Photo by Mzi Velapi

Farmworkers’ organisations and labour unions at a farmworkers conference at UWC were not happy with the lack of a clear plan from Thulas Nxesi on how to deal with recalcitrant farmers.

Farmworkers’ organisations and unions want the government to deal decisively with farmers who refuse entry to inspectors and those that do not comply with the law.

Speaking at a three-day farmworkers’ conference that is taking place at the University of the Western Cape, Thulas Nxesi, the Minister of Employment and Labour was asked about what government is going to do about farmers creating barriers to labour inspection. “Most farmers create barriers for labour inspectors and I personally had an experience of that in Brits in the North West, where we experienced resistance. Farmers are using lawyers, top dogs in the legal fraternity to refuse labour inspectors entry to the farms and they do this with the help of Solidarity whose organisers are also qualified lawyers. Our inspectors have to negotiate entry to the farms to do their work with lawyers,” said Nxesi.

Nxesi promised that he will meet with farmers’ organisations to raise his concerns about the matter and promised that if farmers continue to deny inspectors access or are deemed non-compliant, the government will take action. “Sometimes you are dealing with arrogant people and we will come down very hard on them in terms of employing our legal strategies. We have to take them to court. We are going to have a session with farmer associations on a national and provincial level to talk about these issues. I will also have bilaterals with the unions and then have a meeting with both the unions and the farmers’ organisations. Those who do not want to comply, we will be forced to take punitive measures against them,” he said.

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However, farmworkers’ organisations and unions were not happy with Nxesi’s response as they saw it as an “excuse”. Jabulani Luthuli from Siyanqoba Rural Transformation Forum in the Mngungundlovu District Municipality said that the department should take action against farmers who do not give access to labour inspectors. “They have the power, they are the government, they need to enforce the law and this applies to farms as well.”

Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Unions’ (CSAAWU) president, Ryno Filander, said that the minister was confirming that it is farmers who have power. “The minister always gives the same kind of response to this issue and he, just like us, always raises problems and complaints. He unknowingly admitted that the farmers are the ones with real power and not the government. That is the only reason they won’t act against farmers who do not comply and do not give access to the labour inspectors,” Filander said.

“That was just an excuse on the part of the minister,” said Roseline Engelbrecht from Women On Farms. “The government has the power to enforce the law but they have few labour inspectors. We have been saying that the department must make provision and allocate labour inspectors who specialise in the farming sector,” said Engelbrecht.

Nxesi said his department will be employing 700 inspectors this financial year and that the farming sector will not be exempted. “The 700 inspectors are for all the sectors but given all the problems it faces, the farming sector will be one of the priority areas,” he said.

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On day two, the conference focused on organising of farmworkers and evictions. “We see lots of evictions in KwaZulu-Natal at the moment and we think it is based on the amendment of section 25 of the Constitution which talks about expropriation without compensation. By the time it is implemented, the farmers do not want anyone living on their farms,” said Jabulani Luthuli from Siyanqoba Rural Transformation Forum.

Roseline Engelbrecht from Women on Farms said that in the Cape Winelands area they have observed that foreign investors are buying farms and instead of farming they are diversifying and building luxury houses and this has led to evictions in the area. “Farmworkers and farm dwellers are getting notices of evictions and they will be dumped in informal settlements that do not have basic services,” she said.