Table of Contents


See also the “Job creation” and “Legal aid and legislation” chapters


1. Overview

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) report "Farm Workers’ Living and Working Conditions in South Africa: key trends, emergent issues, and underlying and structural problems"  provides an excellent analysis of the situation between farmers and labour.

“Farming calls for a number of skills, amongst which is the need to manage the labour force professionally and with the necessary sensitivity. The farmer is often employer, human resource manager, social worker and even mentor – all roles originating from a close relationship and involvement in the lives of labourers and their families.” Mr Lourie Bosman, previous Agri SA President


Photo used courtesy of Helen Gordon, WWF SA


2. Local business environment

Market deregulation and trade liberalisation at the close of the last century lead to a situation where value chains in the country are owned by corporates and international companies. Most producers in this country are price takers. Difficult farming conditions and the absence of subsidies have led the farmer to weigh every worker’s productivity carefully.

Producer prices in the agricultural sector have not kept pace with farming requisites.

South Africa follows the global trend of commercial agriculture where economies of scale are essential to be sustainable. This is why we have fewer farmers on larger farms, and these units are becoming more and more capital intensive. The increased use of technology has led to reduced employment opportunities. These changes were necessary for farmers to remain competitive and profitable in the global environment. (If farmers don’t do this they will go out of business and won’t produce food or employ anybody!)

Legislation regarding minimum wages and security of tenure has been introduced to protect poor and illiterate individuals from being exploited. Unfortunately these measures are also unintended disincentives for hiring permanent workers and accommodating them on farms in terms of housing. The number of seasonal workers has increased at the expense of permanent positions.

The permanent workers employed by farmers also increasingly live off-farm, resulting in pressure on expanding rural townships and informal settlements. The contributions formerly made by farmers (housing, infrastructure and services) now are the problem of local government. The farm worker community’s off-farm housing and living conditions requires attention from all stakeholders.

Sources: Adapted from AgriReview 1st quarter 2011 (find these at and the ILO report "Farm Workers’ Living and Working Conditions in South Africa: key trends, emergent issues, and underlying and structural problems". 

Find Farm Evictions and their Impact on Local Municipalities (2016) on the website of the Financial and Fiscal Commission,


The Laborie Dialogue Initiative (LDI), a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed in 2015 between HORTGRO and VinPro, and the national trade union in agriculture, the Food & Allied Workers’ Union (FAWU). Its aim was to improve labour relations. The MoU confirmed the parties’ commitment to six focus areas of development identified in the Fruit Industry Social Compact (FISC) and Wine 2020 Vision:

  • Economic Development
  • Social Development and Upliftment
  • Human Resource Development
  • Market Access, Development and Trade Promotion
  • Knowledge Management and Information Systems
  • Technical Research, Transfer and Intelligence

The Fruit Industry Value Chain Round Table (FIVCRT) is a partnership (principle commitment) between government, the fruit industry and labour. It is leading the process of completing the accord emanating from the FISC with the objective of fostering collaborative industry-government actions to secure an enduring competitive advantage of the South African fruit sector.

Source: Press release 25 June 2015; BFAP Baseline Agricultural Outlook 2016-2025


Some perspectives

Progressive farmers have taken great strides in balancing worker’s rights with their own needs, resulting in more highly skilled workers, who can help farmers become more efficient.

Source: Prof Nick Vink, Stellenbosch  University 

Government’s failure to take a value chain perspective of the industry’s woes has resulted in macro-economic policy that is increasingly weakening producers' bargaining power in the market. Supporting farm workers without simultaneously supporting producers will be an exercise in futility. It is necessary to strengthen the bargaining power of both producers and workers to ensure that profit is distributed more equitably along the value chain. If retailers are concerned about sustainable value chains, also they have to engage with this problematic. A positive spin-off of the De Doorns strike has been the realisation among key industry players in both the producer and worker camps that their fortunes are intertwined. Their willingness to engage each other presents a key opportunity. Government has to become part of this social dialogue and reshape the macro-economic environment to enable both producers and workers to move forward.

Source: The report Farm Workers’ Living and Working Conditions in South Africa: key trends,emergent issues, and underlying and structural problems (see the “Websites & publications” heading)