Abuse Still a Reality on Farms

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We are pleased to note the extensive media coverage that our farm workers study received over the past few days. This has certainly helped to highlight the plight of workers on Namibia’s farms. One aspect of our report seems to have been misunderstood, namely the national minimum wage that was introduced in 2003. Our study found that the minimum wage (and in some cases significantly more) was paid on most commercial farms but hardly on communal farms. We noted that the economic base of the various farm types varied significantly which explains to some extent why the minimum wage was easily implemented on some farms but not on others. Our findings suggest that the current minimum wage agreement has hardly resulted in improved livelihoods for Namibian farm workers. The current minimum wage of N$2.20 per hour is far less than what most commercial farmers are able to pay. Several farmers we interviewed confirmed this. As a result, the current minimum wage has hardly improved the material wellbeing of commercial farm workers. On the other hand, the minimum wage is hardly known and implemented on communal farms. In the absence of trade unions and labour inspectors, there is no enforcement agency and the minimum wage agreement has thus remained meaningless for almost all communal farm workers. It is against this background that we recommended a review of the current minimum wage agreement to ensure that it actually improves farm workers’ livelihoods across the country. Wages should form part of a specified (and measurable) “salary package” that will contribute to lifting farm workers out of poverty. Given the diversity of farming types and operations in Namibia, this is a complex issue that will have to take economic realities into account. However, our study certainly does not call for a lowering of the minimum wage. Instead, we hope that it will provide a basis for further discussions between the stakeholders such as the farmers unions (NAU and NNFU), the Agricultural Employers Association (AEA), government and the Namibia Farm Workers Union (NAFWU). Finally, we would like to respond to the criticism regarding our findings of verbal and physical abuses of farm workers. This is still a very unfortunate reality on some commercial farms. Particularly around Gobabis and Grootfontein. Although we had not provided for this aspect in our initial questionnaire, farm workers in those areas frequently brought it to our attention. These were not isolated incidents and we trust that the stakeholders mentioned above will make a concrete effort to end this abuse. Herbert Jauch Director, LaRRi