Study Urges Minimum Wage Review

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK The minimum wage agreement for farm workers might need to be renegotiated to take into consideration different income levels of farmers, the study on the living and working conditions of farm workers has recommended. The study also recommends that farm workers be granted tenure rights and the right to own and graze livestock on farms where they are employed. Since the minimum wage was gazetted in 2003, slightly more than half of farm owners have implemented it. While almost all the white commercial farmers pay their workers the gazetted amount and in some cases much more, only 14 percent of communal farmers have implemented the agreed wage. The study, “Farm Worker in Namibia – Living and Working Conditions” conducted by the Labour Resource and Research Institute (LaRRI), in nine regions of Namibia, found that 97 percent of white commercial farmers and 85 percent of black commercial farmers had implemented the minimum wage. All farmers on commercial farms knew about the wage unlike 80 percent of communal farmers. The study said the stark difference in living and working conditions of the workers were due to the fact that farmers fall in different income groups. In this regard, the study recommended that policy makers, trade unions and employee organizations take these differences into consideration when formulating interventions aimed at improving the conditions of the workers. But, the Agricultural Employers Association yesterday said it does not support the recommendation to have different wages for sub-sectors. “LaRRI recommendations to a differentiated minimum wage for the sub-sectors is not supported by the AEA as the legislation endeavours to ensure an income above the breadline, irrespective of the sub-sector,” said AEA chairman Helmut FÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶rtsch in a statement on the study on Sunday. He said although the association welcomed the study, which contains the first national statistics since 1996, the sample of the study was too small and too few figures were available to include resettled farmers. The study says that the requirements of the minimum wage do not differentiate between small-scale or subsistence farmers and large commercial farmers both on communal and commercial farms. “There might be a need to define who is expected to comply with the minimum wage provisions and to develop some criteria,” it says. While the study notes that there are some communal farmers that are wealthy enough to afford the provisions of the minimum wage requirements, others have a few goats, for example, and do not market any of their livestock or crops and are still expected to comply with the policy. The lowest paid workers by commercial farmers, according to the study that was launched last week, are the ones employed in the Omaheke and Grootfontein areas – they get between N$400 to N$600 a month – while the highest paid are the ones whose salaries range from N$454 to N$1 200 in the Khomas Region. Communal farmers pay their workers salaries ranging from N$201 to N$250 per month. The study further notes that the disparities show how farmers influenced each other with regard to working conditions of their workers. On ownership of livestock and tenure rights, the study recommends that the Labour Act should be amended to accommodate these concerns and also that generational workers and those who have worked on the farms for more than 10 years should be included in the title deed of the farm in question. The AEA chairman said granting workers housing, water supply and other needs came only with a written or oral contract of employment and are usually terminated when the worker’s employment comes to an end. “Grazing as well as the supply of water is the basis of livestock farming. To grant workers the right to keep income-earning livestock on their employer’s property compares to granting shareholding in other businesses,” FÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶rtsch said. The association also queried the consistency of the interviews conducted by the study in view of allegations of verbal and physical abuse on some of the farms. While acknowledging that isolated cases of physical abuse might occur, which the association did not condone, FÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶rtsch said no question on the questionnaire could have led to findings of abuse on the farms. The report said most farm workers on white commercial farms complained about ill treatment by farmers, citing beatings in some cases.

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