BEHIND the bountiful harvest on farms, particularly for the current agricultural season, are gritty workers prepared to plough through – literally and figuratively – tough conditions to deliver a successful season.
While rick pickings from the back-breaking work are usually reserved for farm owners, workers have to put up with pitiable salaries.
And for the past three years, worker representatives have been engaging to try to improve their lot.
But after protracted negotiations, the parties settled for a US$3 wage hike increase effective June 1, 2017.
The lowest paid worker now earns US$75 per month, while the highest paid takes home US$150, from US$144.
Notwithstanding the low salary rates, 1,38 percent of the pay cheque is collected by the National Social Security Authority (NSSA), while the National Economic Council (NEC) and trade unions are entitled to US$1 and US$2, respectively.
Though seemingly an insult, General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union (Gapwuz) general secretary Mr Golden Magwaza told The Sunday Mail Business that much of the prospects for workers were blighted by successive droughts that affected the sector.
“You realise that since 2014, there were droughts and output was low,” he said.
“When you also look at the economic situation, the economy has not been doing so well too, and this affected our process of negotiation.
“Now we have agreed on a US$3 increment and we are the only sector that has started to move, there are no salary increments in other sectors.
“But it is not like we are happy with the US$3 increment, we have started the road for more negotiations.”
By contrast, South African farm workers earn US$230.
Local farm workers are naturally not happy.
It is understood that they are now swapping Gapwuz, which they accuse of conspiring with employers, for the Progressive Agriculture and Allied Workers Union (PAAWUZ).
Gapwuz used to represent 23 000 agriculture workers.
Last week, PAAWUZ general secretary Mr Raymond Sixpence accused Gapwuz of working hand in glove with farm owners.
“We want a seat in the NEC so that we can negotiate.
“We have members and they need representation. Currently, Gapwuz is the only one that is negotiating for salary increments when the Labour Act Section 28:01 is clear that every labour union has a right to be a member of NEC.
“They sat for three years negotiating for a US$3 increment, this is unheard of.
“There is connivance between Gapwuz and the employers, not only to make life difficult for farm workers, but also to ensure we don’t get into the NEC,” said Mr Sixpence.
PAAWUZ was registered as a labour union by the Ministry of Labour in September last year.
While the new organisation claims to have more than 10 000 workers on its books, it accuses employers of inexplicably transferring subscriptions of more than 7 000 members to Gapwuz.
PAAWUZ says since it is “not part of the salary agreement”, it will continue to push for a living wage.
Gapwuz has since admitted to blocking its rival from joining the NEC.
“We are a trade union, they are a trade union; they are fighting us and we are also fighting them.
“They are taking some of our members and we need to protect our territory. If he (possibly Mr Sixpence) needs to be in the NEC, he should fight us and if he wins, it’s fine,” said Mr Magwaza.
As the trade unions escalate their fight, the employees continue to suffer.
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