In response to the new wage determination which came into effect on the 1st of March, over 900 farmers across the country have applied for exemption from paying the minimum wage.
This will affect the jobs of about 75 000 farm workers.
Soon after the announcement of the new wage determination was made, it was reported that farmers in Limpopo and Mpumalanga would have to retrench around 20 000 workers, despite being able to apply for exemption. It is apparent now that this figure could be a lot higher.
These applications should serve as a forewarning of the possible consequences if no plan is put in place to address job shedding in the agricultural sector.
Yet Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, who last attended a Parliamentary portfolio committee briefing in October last year, nor any officials from her department have raised the issue of potential job losses in the sector since the labour unrest began.
Given that the contribution of agriculture to national GDP declined from 2.5% to 1.9% between 2008 and 2011, urgent measures need to be taken to ensure the continued viability of the sector and encourage the growth necessary to preserve jobs. Failure to do so will jeopardise the livelihoods of countless families.
We cannot afford to ignore the pleas of farming communities, workers and all stakeholders involved.
South Africans need to be reassured that the Minister is doing all in her power to resolve this crisis.