Photo above used courtesy of Helen Gordon, WWF SA
“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
Local business environment
There are around 40 122 commercial farms of which 6 500 are considered large farms. Over 50% of agricultural employment and two thirds of income are concentrated in those 6 500 farms (DALRRD, 2020).
The average level of agricultural employment for 2021 was 838 000, marginally higher than the 829 000 in 2020. The total number of farm workers increased by 3.8% during 2021 (BFAP, 2022).
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.
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.
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: Bureau for Food & Agricultural Policy (BFAP). 2022, April 14. Agricultural Employment Brief; Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform, 15 July 2020; and the ILO report "Farm Workers’ Living and Working Conditions in South Africa: key trends, emergent issues, and underlying and structural problems".
Download the “Futures of Agricultural Employment in South Africa 2035” report, done for the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition by Stellenbosch University’s Institute for Futures Research.
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 Fruit Industry Value Chain Round Table (FIVCRT) is a partnership (principle commitment) between government, the fruit industry and labour to secure “an enduring competitive advantage” for the South African fruit sector. Download its Transformation Working Group (TWG) 2020 report here.
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)
By submitting a workplace skills plan (WSP), employers can claim as much as 70% of their skills levy back. Several AgriSETA-accredited trainers are happy to do the paper work for you. Examples of course possibilities include:
- Drive a tractor (5 days)
- Forklift operator (5 days)
- Pig production/Animal care (5 days)
- Occupational health and safety (2 days)
- Health and safety representatives (2 days)
- First aid level I and II (2,5 days)
- Basic supervising skills (2,5 days)
- Basic fire fighting (2,5 days)
- HIV/Aids awareness (2 days)
- 6M simulation (2,5 days)
Apprenticeships and learnerships offer you, the employer, certain tax breaks – and a labour force which is more skilled. Find information at www.agriseta.co.za. In accordance with laid-down rules, AgriSETA will also fund certain staff training.
- Agriskills Transfer www.agriskills.net Training in many areas of agriculture including health and safety
- BBF Safety Wayne www.bbfsafety.co.za Safety, Health, Environment and Quality (SHEQ) services which incorporate training, consulting, auditing and certification.
- Buhle Farmers Academy www.buhle.org.za
- PCI Agricultural Services www.pciagri.co.za Labour planning training.
- Siyakhulisa Skills Academy www.siyakhulisa.co.za Health and safety in the workplace training
- Skills for Africa www.skillsafrica.co.za
- Work Accident Support www.workaccident.co.za Training regarding the COID Act (Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act No. 130 of 1993), on compliance, procedures, and benefits covered by this act.
Find a complete list of AgriSETA-accredited trainers at www.agriseta.co.za.
Farm Worker Housing
Historically, housing for farm workers has been an integral part of many farming operations in South Africa, farmers providing on-farm housing for their workers. This housing, ranging from mud huts to conventional brick houses, has been part of the terms of the employment contract. Although farmers are increasingly housing workers off-farm, it is not unusual to find a core element still housed on the farm.
Application for financial assistance for electrification of worker houses
This is for Eskom customers extending an existing supply point, or making a new supply point to supply electricity to worker house. Eskom will assist financially by paying an incentive towards the costs of electrification for each worker house electrified. Find details of Eskom branches in the Energy chapter, or visit www.eskom.co.za. See also the Department of Energy Farm Dweller Houses Policy Guidelines for Integrated National Electrification Programme (INEP) document.
Agricultural Villages (Agri Villages)
The development of agri-villages is a partnership between the farmer, the farm worker and the state. An agri-village is considered a private settlement of restricted size, established and managed by a legal institution situated within and/or near an agricultural area and where residence is restricted to bona fide farm workers and their dependents on the farms involved in the development. Under these arrangements, security of tenure does not include right of ownership, but can include trust, communal property association or sectional title.
The institutional subsidy can help to raise the standard of farm worker housing. Find details of housing subsidies on the Department of Human Settlements website www.dhs.gov.za. Municipalities can also offer assistance. Find the Western Cape Provincial Government’s “Municipal Guideline for responding to farm residents housing needs in the Western Cape” on its website.
There are tax deductions for farmworker housing. Find out more from your bookkeeper.
Deducting housing from a farm worker’s salary
Legally this can be done when the following requirements are met (and not before):
- The worker must be at least 18 years old
- Water, electricity and other services are not also deducted
- The amount deducted is not more than the cost to the employer
- The house has a roof that is durable and waterproof;
- The house has glass windows that can be opened;
- Electricity is available inside the house if the infrastructure exists on the farm;
- Safe water is available inside the house or in close proximity, which is not more than 100m, from the house;
- A flush toilet or pit latrine is available in, or in close proximity, to the house; and
- The house is not less than 30 square meters in size.
Source: The Department of Employment and Labour’s Basic Guide to Deductions (Farm Workers)
Labour-related legal legislation
See the separate “Legal aid and legislation” page.
The conditions of employment and minimum wages for farm workers in South Africa are regulated by the Sectoral Determination No 13: Farm Worker Sector. It stipulates that:
- Farm workers should not work more than 45 hours per week and not more than 15 hours overtime per week.
- Farm workers are entitled to have three weeks paid annual leave, one day’s paid sick leave for every 26 days worked, three days responsibility leave per annum and four months maternity leave.
- A farmer may deduct an amount not exceeding 10% of a farm worker’s wage for a house supplied to the farm worker and may not deduct for the grazing of a farm worker’s livestock.
- Farmers are required to give farm workers pay slips and written particulars of employment.
The National Minimum Wage Act sets the minimum wage for workers, from March 2021, at R23.19 per hour (a 45-hour week = 4174.20 per month). Exemptions are Expanded Public Works Programme workers (R12.75 per hour). Read the post “Minimum wage exemption process” at https://agribook.co.za/blog/national-minimum-wage-nmw-exemption-process/.
Find out about the Employment Tax Incentive offered by the South African Revenue Service (SARS) for hiring young people. The contact centre number is 0800 00 7277.
National strategy and government contact
Agriculture is one of the sectors to which government is looking in its quest to create jobs (find the Agriculture heading in the “Job creation” page. It is important to bear in mind that the targets set by the National Development Plan (NDP) are employment targets across the value chain, not for primary agriculture alone. Labour intensive industries such as citrus, table grapes, apples, macadamias, pecans and avocadoes have all already expanded beyond the NDP targets (BFAP, 2019).
- Department of Employment and Labour (DEL) www.labour.gov.za (several documents, necessary forms and useful guides are available on the website)
- Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) www.dalrrd.gov.za
Support for children of farmworkers in some cases includes adopting farm schools. Children of farmworkers receive bursaries for their high school and tertiary education. See SA News report (2021, March 10).
- National Economic Development & Labour Council (NEDLAC) www.nedlac.org.za
- Sustainability Initiative of South Africa (SIZA) www.siza.co.za SISA is “a commitment to continually improve labour conditions on all farms in a practical and comprehensive manner”
Labour-related equipment and software
- Afriklok www.clock.co.za Time and attendance systems
- ALCO-Safe https://alcosafe.co.za Drug and alcohol testing equipment and accessories
- BANBRIC BUILDING www.banbric.co.za A pre-fabricated modular building system
- BBF Safety Wayne www.bbfsafety.co.za and https://lemaitre.co.za Safety clothing and footwear.
- DFM Technologies https://dfmtechnologies.co.za Payroll system software
- Donkerhoek Data www.donkerhoekdata.co.za Payroll system software
- Ellatron Mining Supplies https://ellaton.co.za Personal protective clothing & equipment, safety signs
- Farm Costing Solutions www.farmcostingsolutions.co.za Time & attendance software
- LEMAITRE www.lemaitre.co.za Gumboots, safety- and other footwear
- Maxi Control www.maxicontrol.co.za
- North Safety Products Africa http://northsafety.co.za Protective clothing, head/face protection gear, safety signage and footwear
- PCI Agri https://pciagri.co.za A global supplier of occupational risk management services and products
- Plan-A-Head Software www.planahead.co.za
- SBE International www.sbe.co.za
- Select PPE www.selectppe.co.za protective clothing & outdoor safety equipment
- Software Farm www.softwarefarm.co.za
- http://smelaboursupport.org.za is a free-to-use web tool to help smaller businesses with labour relations processes and matters
- SUSFARMS, the Sustainable Sugarcane Farm Management System, includes labour in its guidelines. Contact the South African Sugarcane Research Institute (SASRI) for more information. Visit https://sasri.org.za.
- Uniclox www.uniclox.co.za Access & security solutions, breathalyzers
See the legal aid page.
Websites and publications
Among the many documents of interest on the Department of Employment and Labour website are Basic Guide to Pay Slips (Farm Workers), Basic Guide to Deductions (Farm Workers), Basic Guide to Overtime (Farm Workers), Basic Guide to Working Hours (Farm Workers), Basic Guide to Working on Sundays (Farm Workers), and Basic Guide to Public Holidays (Farm Workers).
Statistics can be found at www.dalrrd.gov.za, website of the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD). Look under “Resource Centre”. Included are:
- Number of farm employees and domestic servants on farms
- Employment in agriculture, hunting, forestry and fishing
The Best practice reference manual for wool sheep farming in South Africa includes notes on subjects like “Basic conditions of employment”, “Occupational health and safety” and “Skills development”. Find the document, in English or in Afrikaans, on www.capewools.co.za and www.nwga.co.za.
Finance and Farmers ISBN 0-620-11949-7, available from Standard Bank.
If you produce for export, you will need to be familiar with the GlobalG.A.P. Risk-Assessment on Social Practices (GRASP) checklist. These involve the conditions of labour on the farm. Find these at www.globalgap.org.
A number of very useful documents can be found on the Sustainability Initiative of South Africa (SIZA) website, www.siza.co.za. These include Guide to the Law and Best Practice in transporting farm workers in the South African agricultural industry, the SIZA Guide to health and safety management, the Accommodation Guide, Housing Guide, Farm Access Protocol etc.
Download the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) Markets and Economic Research Centre’s findings on labour in agriculture (May 2019) at www.namc.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Macroeconomic-digest-Vol-1-Labour-May-2019-submitted.pdf.
Find Wandile Sihlobo’s “Brief Reflections on SA’s agricultural labour market in the context of changing farm structures” presented at the Agbiz information day (2018, November 1) at https://agbiz.co.za/uploads/AgbizNews18/Agbiz%20Info%20Day_Wandile%20Sihlobo_01%20November%20%202018.pdf
The International Labour Organisation released a report on the living and working conditions of farm workers in South Africa in 2015. Find Farm Workers’ Living and Working Conditions in South Africa: key trends, emergent issues, and underlying and structural problems at several places on the Internet including www.ilo.org and www.idll.uct.ac.za. The purpose of the research is “to make available an up to date status of the working and living conditions of farm workers and to suggest areas and ways and means of managing the future landscape of agriculture in South Africa.”
Going for broke: The fate of farm workers in arid South Africa offers a comprehensive overview on the fate of farm workers. It goes back to the early Cape history of the master-servant relationship to a discussion of the professionalisation of farm workers, which has gained momentum over some time. The book is published by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). Find it at www.hsrcpress.ac.za.
- Campbell R. 2021, August 27. “Agricultural employment probably stable, not increasing, despite StatsSA report”. Engineering News. Available at www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/agricultural-employment-more-probably-stable-not-increasing-despite-statssa-report-2021-08-27
- Van der Walt J. 2021, April 30. “Health and safety do’s and don’ts for farmers”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/farm-basics/how-to-business/health-and-safety-dos-and-donts-for-farmers/
- Reporter. 2021, January 28. “Farm owners urged to ensure safe transport for workers”. SA News. Available at www.sanews.gov.za/south-africa/farm-owners-urged-ensure-safe-transport-workers
- Erasmus D. 2020, October 9. “COVID-19 erases hard-won job gains”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/opinion/blog/letter-from-the-editor/covid-19-erases-hard-won-job-gains
- Matthews J. 2020, July. “Do the right thing – treat workers with care and respect”. Pula/Imvula. Available at www.grainsa.co.za/do-the-right-thing-treat-workers-with-care-and-respect
- Sishuba S. 2020, July 11. “Negative outlook for agri employment, despite good harvests”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/agri-news/south-africa/negative-outlook-for-agri-employment-despite-good-harvests/
- Specialist Writer. 2019, November 19. “Cash is no longer King …with a Mukuru Card”. ProAgri. Available at www.proagri.co.za/en/cash-is-no-longer-king-with-a-mukuru-card/
- LWO Employers Organisation. 2018. “Record working hours for peace of mind”. Available at www.agriorbit.com/record-working-hours-for-peace-of-mind
- Reporter. 2018, August 3. “Table grape farm opens R30m agri-worker housing development”. SA News. Available at www.sanews.gov.za/south-africa/table-grape-farm-opens-r30m-agri-worker-housing-development
- Erasmus, D. 2018, July 20. “Let’s talk about farmworkers”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/opinion/blog/letter-from-the-editor/lets-talk-farmworkers/
- Janeke, A. 2018, January 6. “Hoe moet boere begrafnisse op plase hanteer?” Landbouweekblad. Available at www.netwerk24.com/landbou/Nuus/hoe-moet-boere-begrafnisse-op-plase-hanteer-20180105
- Hornby, D. 2017, November 16. “How farm dwellers in South Africa think about home, land and belonging”. The Conversation. Available at http://theconversation.com/how-farm-dwellers-in-south-africa-think-about-home-land-and-belonging-86939
- Small, A. 2017, July 18. “Enforcing a disciplinary code in the workplace”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/farm-basics/how-to-business/enforcing-disciplinary-code-workplace/
- International Farmworkers’ Forum www.farmworkersforum.org
- International Labour Research and Information Group www.ilrig.org
- Read about the movie Food Chains at www.foodchainsfilm.com. It looks at labour on farms in the USA.
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