Labour minister Thulas Nxesi. Picture: GCIS/.JAIRUS MMUTLE
Labour minister Thulas Nxesi. Picture: GCIS/.JAIRUS MMUTLE

Few people would seriously dispute that many SA farm workers are badly paid. But the way labour minister Thulas Nxesi is aiming to change this — in the middle of a pandemic, and amid one of the highest unemployment rates in the world — suggests he still hasn’t got the memo about "consulting the private sector" on new policies.

This week, Nxesi unveiled a 16% unilateral wage increase, similar to the same blanket rise he afforded workers in the restaurant industry a few weeks ago.

Neither move, it seems, took into account any of the inputs from employers in the sector.

Agri SA, for instance, argued in the talks leading up to the surprise announcement that an immediate increase in wages would be unsustainable for the agricultural sector.

Worse, it appears that Nxesi’s labour commissioners brushed off the effects that the state’s pandemic-related shutdowns have had on huge swathes of the sector — like wine and tobacco farmers, as well as wool and barley producers, which were not declared essential services during the hard lockdown. The industry argues that such an increase will grow the agricultural wage bill to above 30% of production costs, which will have to be passed onto consumers.

It’ll be a pyrrhic victory if food prices go up, and jobs are lost. If only someone would tell Nxesi that employers are not the enemy.

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