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Do the right thing – treat workers with care and respect

July 2020

Jenny Mathews, Pula Imvula
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Much has been said in the media about the plight of farm workers in South Africa. The general picture painted is a very negative one and farmers are generalised as a group that treats its employees poorly.

There is sadly very little focus on the good work being done either into how the agricultural sector creates valuable employment in rural areas, or on how farmers contribute generously to their local communities.

The bad rap actually comes from cases where there has indeed been poor treatment of farm workers, or where processes and legislation have not been followed correctly. It is the responsibility of every farmer to work towards changing this negative impression. This is only achieved when as a collective we work with integrity and honesty, doing right by those who work with us to make our farming operations what they are. There is no need to wonder what the right procedures are because Sectoral Determination 13 is in place to regulate the basic conditions of employment and the remuneration of farm workers in South Africa.

A farm worker refers to every person involved in the farming activity and includes all general workers, private security guards (except if they are employed by the private security industry and have been seconded to your business,) and all domestic workers who are active in farm dwellings.

It is always better to have a written contract with farm workers. In fact, increasingly nowadays the representatives of the Department of Labour will ask to see these when conducting a farm inspection. The contracts should include information regarding salary and all particulars of the employee as well as terms of employment. The contract should also specify whether it is a permanent contract of employment (i.e. no end date is specified) or a fixed term contract (i.e. a specific time period for the worker’s employment e.g. seasonal workers).

What information should be included? Here are a few guidelines only:

  • Full names
  • Identity document – keep a copy on file
  • Where will the work be done – place of work
  • Working hours
  • Night work – this if often a requirement on farms in peak seasons
  • Overtime – your expectations/remuneration
  • Wages – when will payment be made, what will remuneration be
  • Leave – how many days
  • Will there be any deductions on the salary – specify this
  • Termination of employment – specify conditions e.g. reasons and/or circumstances

According to the Department of Labour’s Basic Conditions of Employment Act No. 75 of 1997, all farm workers must be paid at least according to the stipulated annual minimum wage scales. Farmers must familiarise themselves with the appropriate legislation.

Some points worth highlighting are:

  • A farm worker may not work more than 45 hours per week.
  • Farm workers should work a maximum of 9 hours per day for 5 days or less a week, but 8 hours per day if he/she works more than 5 days each week.
  • Any work done beyond these parameters is by agreement and to be calculated as overtime.
  • Overtime is paid at a rate of 1,5 times the workers normal wage. The alternate option is the worker may be given time off as compensation.
  • Night work refers to work done after 20h00 and before 04h00. Compensation for these hours is 10% of the normal daily wage.
  • If a worker works less than 45 hours per week then the salary is calculated on the prescribed hourly rate.
  • In instances where farm workers need to do farm chores on Sundays and Public Holidays then the farm worker is due double wages.

Prohibition of child labour
No one under the age of 15 is required or permitted to work. Every parent is expected to make sure that a child under 15 attends school. No person may employ a child who is under the age of 15 in farming activities. Children older than 15 but younger than 18 cannot work more than 35 hours a week and cannot work with chemicals. An employer must maintain a record of the name, date of birth and address of every farm worker under the age of 18 years employed by them for three years.

National minimum wage rate
The new national minimum wage rate for farm workers increased by 3,8% and came into effect in March 2020:

  • In terms of the new determination farm workers are entitled to a minimum wage of R18,68 per hour.
  • This translates to: R840,60 for a 45-hour week and R3 362,40 per month.

Leave conditions should also be included in the employment contract

  • Annual leave – at least three weeks leave on full pay for twelve months of employment.
  • Sick leave – a sick leave cycle is a period of 36 months. During the first six months of work, the farm worker is entitled to one day paid sick leave for every 26 days worked. During every sick leave cycle, the farm worker is entitled to an amount of paid sick leave equal to the number of days the farm worker would normally work during a period of six weeks.
  • Family responsibility leave – this applies to a farm worker if he has worked for his employer for longer than four months. Three days paid leave for every twelve months of employment are to be granted if the farm workers child is born, a child is sick or in the event of a death of a partner, parent, grandparent, child, grandchild or sibling. This leave cannot be accumulated and lapses at the end of an annual leave cycle.
  • Maternity leave – a farm worker is entitled to four consecutive month’s maternity leave. The leave can start at any time from four weeks before the expected date of birth. The employer does not have to pay the farm worker for the period that she is away due to her pregnancy – or the parties could agree on the amount to be paid as wages, on condition she is able to claim maternity benefits from the Unemployment Insurance Fund. A farm worker may not work for six weeks after giving birth unless a medical practitioner or midwife certifies that she is fit to do so.

It is always the right time to do the right thing – take care of your employees and they will take care of your farming operation.

Termination of employment

When we are signing an employment agreement with a new worker often the last thought in mind is the termination of employment, but this does need to actually form part of your initial agreement with the new worker.

How can employment be ended? It is normal to expect a worker to give notice to end the employment relationship. The guidelines say if a worker has worked less than six months then a notice period of one week must be given, if employed for more than six months a notice period of one month must be given. If an employer wishes to terminate the contract, then notice must be given in writing with a verbal explanation in a language he/she understands.

You don’t build a business you build people – and then those people build the business! Richard Branson has been a highly successful entrepreneur in many sectors. He believes the key to business success lies in the way you treat your employees: ‘Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.’ This is also true in a farming environment. If your workers feel respected and valued, they will in turn treat the machinery and tools they work with, or the animals and farming operations they are involved in with care and respect.

Publication: July 2020

Section: Pula/Imvula