Spotlight falls on labour relations on farms

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Staff Reporter

Windhoek-Healthy labour relations on Namibian farms will be the focal point today when the 30th Annual Congress of the Agricultural Employers Association (AEA) gets under way at a lodge outside Windhoek.

The congress takes place against the backdrop of Namibian farmworkers whose working and living conditions still vary greatly across farmer categories and farming regions. Farmworkers in Namibia are not a homogeneous group across the country. There are three broad farmer categories that fall in different income groups and provide varying working and living conditions for farmworkers:

* White (established) commercial farmers: This group of farmers falls in the highest income bracket and hence the material conditions they offer to farm workers tend to be better, relative to other groups of farmers.

* Black (emerging) commercial farmers: This group falls broadly in the middle income group and offers material conditions, which are usually slightly lower than those offered by white farmers, but higher than those of communal farmers. Most farmworkers are satisfied with their working conditions and generally have a sense of ownership of the farms.

* Communal farmers: This group of farmers falls in the lowest income group and offers the poorest material conditions to farmworkers. However, workers on communal farms are usually satisfied with their working conditions and also feel a strong sense of ownership of the farms.

The keynote speaker at today’s congress will be Sakkie Coetzee, executive manager of the Namibian Agricultural Union (NAU), while other speakers include Sigi Lange, a management consultant at Capacity Trust, who will speak on the subject of ‘The wild horse – powers within yourself that could create more chaos than you would realise’.

Productivity and production will come under the spotlight when Paul van der Merwe, former chief of the Neudamm Agricultural College, will talk about this important subject in an ever-changing agricultural environment.

Hellmut Förtsch, fulltime farmer and member of the AEA management, will add to this during his presentation on productivity on farms. Group discussions and feedback sessions will add to the flavour of the congress, whereafter a new AEA management committee will be elected.

The congress will conclude with a closed session and presentation of the annual report covering the period from March 2016 to February 2017.

The management committee, policy makers, trade unions and employers’ organisations have been urged over the years to take the various farmer categories into consideration when formulating policy interventions aimed at improving the working and living conditions of farmworkers.

The minimum wage agreement, for example, has been renegotiated to take these different income levels of different farmer groups into consideration.

The bulk of government assistance had been given to the more formal, commercial or freehold sector prior to independence. Since then much support has shifted to farmers in communal areas, where the stated aim of the government is to reduce poverty.

Other important policy goals pursued in the past 27 years are to promote rural development and to boost food security, which aims to ensure that each household can meet its nutritional requirements.

It is the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF) that provides most direct support to farmers, while other assistance comes from the Ministry of Industrialisation, Trade and Small and Medium Enterprises Development and several statutory organisations, like the Meat Board of Namibia, Agronomy Board, Karakul Board, Meatco, as well as the Agricultural Bank of Namibia.

Finally, government is in the process of redistributing freehold farms to previously disadvantaged Namibians, this policy being implemented by the Ministry of Land Reform.

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