LABOUR: Comments On Farm Abuse
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THE Cape Chamber of Commerce says it was shocked by accounts of labour abuse on Western Cape farms but it believes most of the stories are exceptional and do not represent the broad picture.
“Unfortunately there will always be some abuse and we need to deal with these cases, but the fact is that most farm workers are well treated and paid fair wages,” said Mr Michael Bagraim, President of the Chamber.
He was commenting on recent reports by the Human Rights Watch and the Black Association of the Agricultural Sector which described squalid conditions and abuse on Western Cape farms.
He said the laws governing farm labour were adequate and the problem was enforcement.
The Department of Labour inspectors were under resourced and were not doing or not able to carry out the systematic inspections required by law and necessary to eliminate abuse.
A second problem was that the unions concentrated their efforts on the larger farms where they had many members and consequently smaller and less accessible farms did not receive enough attention.
He said it was unlikely that the unions would have tolerated the situation described in the reports if the abuse was as widespread as the reports implied. There might well be problem areas but it was unfair to tar the whole industry with this brush.
Mr Bagraim was concerned about the value of reports based on interviews. “There are always unhappy people and, regrettably, there will always be some abuse, but a responsible report should go beyond interviews and give us statistics to put the problem into perspective. They should give us the total number of people employed on farms, their wages and benefits and the percentage of people who are underpaid. A balanced report would also include information on benefits such as housing provided for 200 000 people who work on wine farms and the improvements made to working conditions in recent years.”
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