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‘Anti-minimum wage farmers are arrogant’

Written by on June 7, 2024

Labour researcher and social justice activist Herbert Jauch says farmers who refuse to welcome the N$18 minimum wage proposed by the government are arrogant.

He says the minimum wage is based on a tripartite commission comprising employer organisations, trade unions and government officials.

His comments follow the Agricultural Employers Association (AEA) releasing a statement this week to express unhappiness at the labour ministry’s directive to set a new minimum wage for the agricultural sector, effective 1 January 2025.

According to the Cabinet directive, employees in the agriculture sector who are being paid a minimum of N$6 per hour (p/h) plus pay in-kind, as per the collective agreement in the sector, will be paid N$10 p/h in the first year, N$14 p/h in the second year, and N$18 p/h in the third year, exclusive of in-kind payments.

In a joint statement issued on Tuesday, AEA management said they had requested an exemption on the national minimum wage because agriculture uniquely includes housing, cash and provisions for life needs.

Jauch said there was a lengthy process of over a year during which the wages commission travelled the country, and employers had enough time to make their proposals heard.

Herbert Jauch

He said the Labour Force Survey of 2018 found that 70% of all employed people earned N$1 400 per month.

“This is ridiculously low. You can’t meet the most basic needs with such starvation wages. The employers want to lock workers into continuous poverty and this is something coming from the colonial past, because the colonial economy was built on cheap black labour,” he said.

This has not changed after independence and it’s time we moved in line with the Constitution and pay a living wage to everybody, he said.

Jauch said the drought is no excuse for paying low wages, because some employers live luxurious lifestyles and their workers languish in abject poverty.

He noted that the minimum wage is one step towards bridging the inequalities prevalent in the country.

However, the AEA described the phased model as unfeasible.

“From the current N$6 p/h to N$10 p/h (67% increase), followed by a rise to N$14 p/h in year one (40%) and to N$18 p/h in year two (22%). This is unaffordable,” noted the statement signed by AEA chairperson Christine Stoman and administrator Danie van Vuuren.

The statement added that the agricultural community is in the midst of the worst drought in 100 years, which led president Nangolo Mbumba to declare a state of emergency.

“Such (wage) adjustments, therefore, appear to be short-sighted,” noted the statement.

Commenting on the AEA position, Stoman said the new minimum wage was not economically viable at the moment.

Danie van Vuuren

She said the AEA had written to the ministry of labour requesting an urgent discussion on the matter, together with other members of the Namibia Agricultural Labour Forum. These members are the Namibia Agricultural Union, Namibia National Farmers Union, the Namibia Emerging Commercial Farmers Union and the Farm Workers Union.

Stoman said while farmers want to improve wages, they cannot afford to triple wages within three years.

“It’s not economically viable,” she said.

She said the current agreed minimum wage is N$6 per hour in addition to in-kind wages of N$650 per month.

“This works out to N$1 820 per month for an entry level employee. Those who have been on the job longer, get more,” she said.

She noted that at N$10 p/h, the minimum wage would jump to N$2 600 per month, including rations.

“Consider that crop farmers hire about 30 crop harvesters. Paying N$10 p/h up from N$6 p/h would take a big chunk of their cash flow. We are saying to the ministry, let the farmers pull through the drought.

“And one needs to pay attention to the factory – which is my crops and my livestock,” she said, adding that it’s better to have more people employed than to have retrenchments.

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