As soon as the new national minimum wage was announced, bringing the wages of farmworkers in line with workers in all other sectors with low pay, the agriculture lobby was out in full force to suggest it would lead to huge job losses, shifts away from labour-intensive product lines and generally the sort of catastrophe we can ill afford at this point.

The message from the lobby was “we only want government to realise that farmers cannot afford the wage increases”, as the Transvaal Agricultural Union’s president suggested. Farmers in general? Or some farmers? Any job lost in this difficult moment has painful household and macroeconomic implications. However, generalisations of this sort are not helpful in balancing the two objectives at play here...

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