OKAKARARA – The recently-increased minimum wages for workers in both commercial and communal farmlands have been received with mixed feelings, with some workers expressing optimism while others doubt if the new wages will be enforced.
The Namibia Agricultural Labour Forum (NALF), which consists of the Namibia Farmworkers Union (NAFWU), Namibia Agricultural Employers Association (AEA), the Namibia Emerging Commercial Farmers Union (NECFU) and the Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU) recently announced that the current minimum wage will increase by 10% as from 1 October 2023. The labour ministry this week clarified that the minimum wages as announced by the AEA are only binding on members of parties to the collective agreement. A statement from the labour ministry’s acting executive director Lydia Indombo emphasised that wages will only be binding to all employees in the sector until parties to the collective agreement request the labour minister to extend these to the entire sector.
Thus, the minimum wage only becomes binding to the entire sector once it is published in the Government Gazette.
“Although not legally obligated, there is nothing preventing non-members to the collective agreement to remunerate their employees with that minimum wage and/or even more, since it is merely a minimum,” Indombo stated.
She said the AEA has in the past requested the minister to extend the collective agreement, but this was not approved at the time due to conflicting details in terms of submissions contrary to the provisions of the Labour Act.
“The ministry will ensure that this minimum wage becomes sectoral-bound, if the parties to the agreement are willing to request the minister to extend it to the entire sector, and that the submission is done in the fulfilment of the provisions of the Labour Act,” Indombo added.
Generally, the basic renumeration set-up of farmworkers consists of a cash wage, as well as a rations component.
The new agreement signed by all parties states that the new minimum cash wage increases by 10% to N$6.00 per hour, or N$1 170 per month for workers who work 45 hours per week. Those who do not receive free rations will see the ration allowance increase to N$650 per month.
That basically means the value of the new minimum basic wage of farmworkers will be N$1 820.00 per month as from 1 October 2023.
“The above parties once again want to emphasise that the minimum wage in the agricultural sector is just an entry-level wage meant for young farmworkers without previous experience. The actual salaries paid to farmworkers with experience are much higher. We believe that most workers on farms are better off than general workers in other industries as farmworkers usually get free housing, rations, water, electricity and firewood, while workers in other industries have to utilise the bulk of their salaries for these commodities,” reads the NALF statement.
The forum added: “The parties have further agreed that adjustments of the minimum wage in the agricultural sector must in future be collectively negotiated on an annual basis, to be effected on 1 October of each year to equalise the negative effects inflation has on the living standards of farmworkers.”
New Era spoke to a few farmworkers at the ongoing Okakarara Annual Trade Fair, who accompanied their respective employers to the event to come and showcase their various animals and services.
Although they were not willing to disclose who they work for or whether they are communal or commercial farmworkers for fear of victimisation, they were willing to share their perspectives on the newly- improved minimum wage.
Thomas Iipinge said he only heard about the new minimum wage through radio and friends from the surrounding areas where he works, but had serious doubts that it will be enforced on all employers.
“The problem is that it is not the first time to hear about these kinds of increments. Nothing usually happens as they are not enforced on our bosses, and when we demand the new wages, they [employers] tell us to pack and leave their farms. Even now as we speak, I cannot discuss that with my boss as my two other colleagues were recently sent home due to the financial problems our boss is experiencing. So, bringing up the new wage issue at this point in time will be like firing myself, and I’m not ready for that as I have children in school,” said Iipinge.
Another farmworker, Tjeundo Ngandajao, expressed delight with the new minimum wage. He thus hopes that the unions will enforce it, and also make time to provide farmworkers with education about their rights and the various labour laws.
“I heard about it, but as you might know, we are not in a position to demand the enforcement of those things because we get dismissed. But I hope that one day, the law will be enforced on our employers so that we get rewarded with our fair share. I mean, we work hard and go the extra mile to ensure that our employers’ animals are well-looked after and that nothing goes missing. So, it is only fair that we get paid accordingly,” shared Ngandajao.