Talk it through: Minister of Labour, Mildred Oliphant. Picture: Gallo Images
About 900 farmers have asked the labour department to be exempted from paying their workers the new minimum wage of R105 a day, Minister Mildred Oliphant said on Thursday.
Oliphant said about 10 percent of them had failed to provide the department with the required documentation to back up their applications.
"In terms of the applications we have received for the exemption, it is about 900 applicants, and in terms of those applications 10 percent have no supportive documents," she told a media briefing in Cape Town on infrastructure development and job creation.
"We have sent them back to the employers to say we need more information."
Oliphant said the applicants represented less than one percent of the South African farming community.
"What should be clear is that these 900 applications are out of plus minus 100,000 farmers in this country."
She said she doubted that the new minimum wage would result in "massive" job losses in the agriculture sector.
The new sectoral determination increasing the minimum wage for farm labourers from R65 to R105 a day came into force on March 1. This was also the closing date for applications from farmers for exemptions.
Farmers have threatened to retrench workers and have expressed frustration at the level of information the department required from farmers seeking exemptions.
Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies dismissed suggestions that the "very modest, moderate R105" daily wage would prompt large-scale mechanisation and job losses in farming.
He said the government was prepared to help farmers position themselves more lucratively in the market and to make their operations more sustainable.
Using export fruit as an example, he said ways needed to be found to ensure that farmers reaped more of the profits on the produce, because an unacceptably large percentage accrued to foreign retailers.
"I became aware that 45 percent of the value chain of table grapes is captured outside South Africa, and the percentage, I believe, is even higher for some other fruit exports.
"I think that raises a very important number of questions about the way we export our products... and how we can go about capturing more of the revenue from the products that we produce in South Africa.
"As government we would be prepared to be part of finding solutions to some of these problems and getting more of the gains of the products we produce inside the country."