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Northern KwaZulu-Natal farmers found themselves under scrutiny this past weekend, with Parliament sending two committees to embark on a three-day joint oversight programme to assess the living conditions of farm workers, farm dwellers and tenants.
The Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform and the Portfolio Committee on Employment and Labour officially launched their joint-oversight program on Friday, 12 August 2022, at Blackrock Casino with a briefing on the purpose of the initiative.
This involved joint engagements with stakeholders, including the departments of Labour and Agriculture; traditional leaders; the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration; labour unions; farmers’ associations; and associations of farm dwellers and tenants.
The joint oversight programme is the result of a National Assembly resolution adopted on 10 November 2020, for both committees to assess the legislation and explore opportunities for legislative review.
Moreover, the panel led by Inkosi Zwelivelile Mandela, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform proved to be an educational experience.
Mandela pointed out that the oversight programme was initially launched, due to numerous submissions received by Parliament from farm workers, tenants and farm dwellers, highlighting infringements by local farmers.
These infringements included people being illegally evicted off land, farmers cutting water and electricity in an attempt to force farm tenants and dwellers off their land, as well as farmers paying less than the legal minimum wage and not reporting work-related injuries.
“During our engagements and visits to farms, we will be doing audits to determine if farmers are abiding to legislation, and if they aren’t, steps will be taken immediately,” stated Mandela. Whereby he further elaborated that farmers’ administration would be checked, to determine that no stone was left unturned.
The importance of this oversight programme, Mandela highlighted, was to ensure that dignity and integrity were restored to the afflicted farm tenants, dwellers and workers. “They are still living in appalling conditions. While farmers enjoy the right to their private property, tenants have tenant rights.”
With this said, Mandela highlighted that he approved of land expropriation where it was proved that farm dwellers and their respective families had lived on a space of land for several years.
As a result, eleven farms were visited spanning across the Amajuba and uThukela Districts.
At a Normandien-based farm, a farmer found that while he was compliant with the bulk of legislation, he was lacking in terms of Occupational Health and Safety.
This followed the discovery that his employees who operated machinery were not trained or licensed to do so. One farm worker has apparently died while operating equipment he was not educated on.
With the farmer now having to take the necessary steps to get his staff trained, Mandela said that all infringements would see immediate steps taken against the farmers, with them having between 30 to 60 days to resolve the matter.
The Department of Labour’s Chief Inspector in KZN, Edward Khambula said, “Under the safety conditions, we discovered that 58% of employers that were visited by inspectors are not adhering to the labour laws accordingly under the safety conditions. And we also discovered that 70% of employers that were visited were not adhering accordingly under the unemployment insurance act and the unemployment contributions act.”
He added that it was also discovered that 8% of employers were not paying the National Minimum Wage and they were also not adhering to the sectoral determination such as providing written contracts of employment to workers, issuing payslips and keeping attendance registers. Additionally, other workers would work overtime and not get compensated accordingly.
Furthermore, Mandela explained that a full report of the findings would be tabled in due course and the relevant follow-up investigations would be completed.
With Parliament taking a closer look at local farms in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, whare your thoughts?
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