WINDHOEK - Being a farmer, and thus the owner of agricultural land in Namibia, is regarded as a privilege, although not every citizen in the country can own it.
However, the question of unfair labour practices on farm workers be it on commercial or communal farms remains unaddressed in many aspects, despite existing laws to protect the workers.
The plight of farm workers, who are often forgotten in national conversations, was the centre of attention during lengthy sessions at the second national land conference held in Windhoek October 2018.
Unfair labour practices by their masters on both communal and commercial farms and other willy-nilly violations by bosses of all races, colours, and creeds came into sharper focus.
In fact, when National Union of Namibian Workers secretary-general Job Munioro asked which farmers in the crowd have their workers on medical aid, the room went stone silent – with even politicians firmly burying themselves in their chairs.
“Who will lift their hands and tell me their workers have medical aid at the farm?” he asked.
“Nobody,” he said after a lengthy silence.
Such ill-practices also prompted President Hage Geingob to react about the exploitation of farm workers, when, during the closing of the second national land conference, he said their living conditions are inhumane.
The Labour Act clearly stipulates that if an employee is, by virtue of his or her employment, required to live in or on the place of his or her employment or to reside on any of his her employer, such employer must provide such employee with such housing, including sanitary and water facilities, as may comply with the reasonable requirements of such employees and, in the case of an employee who is required to live or reside on agricultural land, of his or her dependants, and, as may be mutually agreed by the individual employer and employees.
The Act further states that employers should provide, in addition, to such employee, electricity where available.
In 1992, the first Labour Act of Namibia was promulgated, which was replaced by the current Labour Act, Act 11 of 2007.
The Labour Act entrenches fundamental labour rights and protections for both employers and employees in all sectors, including commercial farms.
On 1 January 2003, the first minimum wage agreement for farm workers was gazetted and implemented.
The agreed minimum wage determines the wage for the entry-level of agricultural employees in the whole of Namibia, including agricultural contract employees.
Domestic workers on farm, game and hunting farms, and lodges are also covered by this agreement.
New Era engaged the Agricultural Employers’ Association principal officer, Danie van Vuuren, on the labour sector on agricultural farms in Namibia - 29 years after independence.
He said the bi-annual wage surveys conducted by the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) indicate that farm workers on commercial farms earn on average about 60 percent more than the minimum wage.
“If you add the free housing, water, electricity and firewood of farm workers to the basic wage, it is clear that farm workers are better off than unskilled workers in most other labour sectors,” Van Vuuren maintained.
He said the current minimum wage is N$1 400 monthly plus free housing, water, electricity and or firewood.
According to him, the minimum wage for farm workers is just an entry-level wage for young farm workers with no experience.
He said based on the 2018 wage survey done by NAU, the actual average basic salary of farm workers on commercial farms is 53 percent higher than the minimum wage which is very competitive.
Asked whether NAU thinks the introduction of the minimum wage has any positive impact on the living conditions of farm workers, he said it definitely has, as is contains the minimum entry-level remuneration of farm workers as well as other conditions of service like free housing, water, electricity and or firewood, which are compulsory.
Another topic of concern is the farm workers’ health and safety issues in the farming sector, and whether the union looks into issues such as the impact of HIV/AIDS, land use rights and the status of spouses of the farm workers.
He indicated that NAU has developed a user guide for health and safety on commercial farms for ensuring a safe and healthy farming
“Likewise, we have developed a policy for managing HIV/AIDS within the commercial agricultural sector. Farm workers on many farms are allowed to grow their own vegetables and their animals have free grazing rights. Many spouses (women) of farm workers are also employed on commercial farms as domestic workers,” he noted.
On child labour in the agricultural sector in Namibia and how the union ensures their rights are protected in the sector, he revealed that NAU has developed a practical guide or manual to the Labour Act, which clearly contains the stipulations on child labour.
Unfortunately, he said due to the bad quality of schools in the rural areas, many children of farm workers dropped out of school before reaching the age of 18.
For some, Namibia is not doing enough to combat the scourge of child labour in the agricultural sector.
However, Van Vuuren feels labour inspectors are deployed in all regions and do regular labour inspections or audits on commercial farms to ensure compliance by farmers, which include child labour.
2019-04-30 09:44:16 3 months ago