High wage demands will damage the Western Cape's agricultural sector, a labour department official said in Grabouw on Monday night (14 January).
"The harsh reality is that the agricultural sector can be damaged," Thembinkosi Mkalipi, chief director of labour relations, said after a public hearing held at the Christian Mission of Africa Hall, to discuss farm workers' minimum wages.
"It is our task to explain to the people what the real position is and to try and keep expectations in control," Mkalipi said.
The meeting ended after one worker suggested that perhaps something less than R150 per day could be acceptable. This caused an uproar and soon after people started leaving.
"We were prepared for tonight's response on the minimum wage for workers. We know that the farm workers are expecting the R150 they are demanding and that the unions are demanding. However, it is our task to explain to them what the realities are," he added.
Currently the minimum wage of R69 per day applied to people starting to work on farms.
"It is for people without experience. It does not apply to people who have been working on farms for a few years or more," Mkalipi said.
Grabouw Civic Organisation member, Margaret le Roux, disagreed.
"The farmers can afford it. No farmers will sink if they have to pay R150 per day. We demand this and will not end our actions before it is agreed to," she said to applause.
Grabouw was one of the areas plagued by violent strikes for two days last week.
Further hearings were scheduled for towns including De Doorns, Robertson, Oudtshoorn, and Vredendal between Tuesday and Sunday.
"We know we will get the same reaction in these meetings. However, we need to talk to the people and explain how to keep agriculture working," Mkalipi said.
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