6,500 commercial sector jobs were lost recently, due in part to a steep rise in the minimum wage. Since the beginning of April, the minimum wage for agricultural workers increased 8.5% to R7.71 per hour, with increases over the next two financial years calculated at 1.5% above the consumer price index, The Fresh Fruit Portal reports.
The tomato sector has been particularly badly hit with one of the largest farmers switching to cattle farming, causing the loss of 600 jobs. Now South African farmers want the government to adopt more flexible labour laws.
Fruit farmers too will start laying off workers once harvests are in, says Agri SA transformation chair Dr Theo de Jager. "[Farmers] can't lay people off now - they have to wait for harvest time to finish," he says. "The avocado industry, for example, is harvesting now and will continue until August. We will start seeing [job losses happening] from October onwards." de Jager fears labour intensive fruit farmers will move to Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia where land leasing and labour costs are lower.
Minimum wage is an issue "because it's way out of line with surrounding countries. It's putting pressure on South African farmers and they are finding it difficult to compete against production from neighbouring countries," Philip van Zyl, executive director of South Africa's largest tomato grower ZZ2, told the Fresh Fruit Portal. Rigid labour laws, he added, were deterring employers from taking-on staff in a country where unemployment among the working age population is 30%.
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