More needs to be done to improve working conditions of farmworkers: Committee

The Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development has found that a lot still needs to be done by the government to improve the working conditions of farmworkers.

The committee is currently conducting oversight visits in Mpumalanga.

According to the Portfolio Committee, some farm owners in the country continue to deliberately disregard labour laws. The Committee is currently in the province, meeting with farmworkers, labour unions, and farm owners.

On Friday, they went to farms in the Nkomazi municipality.

A Banana farm estate fired farmworkers in the area a few years ago after they staged a protest. They also accused the owner of mistreatment and of violating their constitutional right to join a union of their choosing. To date, there are farmers who abuse workers.

Committee chairperson, Zwelivelile Mandela says they will ensure that action is taken against employers who abuse farmworkers.

“For example, they are here or 8 hours from the time they come in and at 8 to 8:30 they get a 30-minute break and then at 1:00 to 1:30 they get a 30-minute break and then at 3:30 they knock off, which they are supposed to be on a rotational program that allows them to stand for about 4 hours per shift. Now, these are the issues that we are beginning to see emanate.”

Mandela has also heard that officials from the labour department fail to play their part in ensuring workers’ concerns are attended to.

“The farm manager says well I haven’t seen this inspector and I don’t even know who this inspector is. And we do expect that inspectors come here at least once a year. So it can’t be a situation that the inspector is here because Parliament is here and it’s the first time that even the farm managers are seeing him. So those things need to be followed through. We need to ensure that the department is actually doing the work that is supposed to be doing. It’s ensuring that our people are working and living conditions are according to standard. So we will take that up with the departments.”

Chief Director of Operations at the Department of Labour, Margaret Mazibuko, encourages farmworkers to forward their complaints to her department. She says they have received a number of complaints from farmworkers in the Nkomazi area.

“What we have on record is that the employer is not telling the truth. I’ve got documents that the inspection was done in 2021 August and according to our procedures, inspectors can come back after a year or they can come as a reaction after a complaint any time of the year. That is why we advised parliament that they should come to this farm because of the number of complaints that we have received from this end.”

Members of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development and that of Employment and Labour will be in Mkhondo on Sunday.

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