WOMEN ON FARMS PROJECT
SUBMISSION TO THE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON LABOUR:
Our Organisation wishes to make a written and oral representation on the subject of the Unemployment Insurance Bill at the public hearings to be held by the Portfolio Committee on Labour on the 19 and 20 March 2000.
Background of the Women on Farms Project:
The Women on Farms Project (hereafter referred to as WFP) is an NGO that strives to strengthen the capacity of women who live and/or work on farms to claim their rights and fulfill their needs. We do this through farm community and organisational building socio-economic rights based and gender education, lobbying, advocacy and organisational support. Our goal is to empower women farm workers to improve their living and working conditions and to achieve gender equality in the workplace, home and farming community.
Our vision is one of a work environment where women’s labour is valued and where women enjoy the same employment benefits as men. To see a society that values the contribution women are making to the agricultural sector and to the South African economy.
Conditions of women farm workers:
Women play an important role in agriculture. Within the deciduous fruit industry, 59% of the workforce consist of women; 57% of the workforce in the table grape sector are women and within apple industry, although women constitute 40% of the permanent workforce, 70% of the seasonal workforce comprises women.
Women form an easily accessible and cheap pool of labour from which to meet the requirements of highly labour intensive seasonal activities such as picking, sorting and packing fruit. Women's access to employment (whether temporary or permanent) and housing is based on their relationship with an employed man. Women farm workers are regarded as 'causal' labourers. This enables the farmer to pay them at a lower rate than male workers who perform the same or similar types of jobs. As causal temporary employees women have seldom direct contact with the farm. They do not enjoy equal pay for equal work. Their wages range from R75.00 to R80.00 per week. Low wages, together with the practice of preventing women workers from seeking employment off the farm, deprives them of cash income even when they are not needed during off - season periods. This has left women in a particularly weak economic position.
In many instance women’s only survival during the off season time is to do domestic work. Many times these women become sick or fall pregnant and have no income. It is true that many farmers do not deduct UIF from seasonal workers as they regard this as unnecessary as the workers will only be there for a short period. Women seasonal workers often work long hours without getting any overtime payment or any other benefits. Many of these women are uninformed of their rights to claim UIF and do not take it up with the farmer. They are also afraid to lodge a complaint against the farmer as they have reasonable expectation that the farmer will re-employ in the next season.
The point we are making is that even though the picking season is normally between three and five months long, the same people are employed every season yet have no access to Unemployment Insurance benefits.
Because of the continuing global trend many fruit and wine farmers are facing liquidation or are mechanising. These result in the fact that farmers further employ more seasonal labourers.
The Women on Farms Project support any attempt by the Department of Labour to improve the situation of farm worker. We support and welcome the tabling of the Unemployment Insurance Bill as it contains some positive elements such as ensuring that both employers an employees contribute to the fund, it seeks to separate out maternity and unemployment benefits and to broaden the scope of the unemployment insurance to higher- income earners. However we are concern about the exclusion of the domestic workers and seasonal workers.
In the light of women’s position we would recommend that domestic workers and seasonal workers are included in the Bill. Already two investigations have been carried out into bringing domestic workers into the Bill. Domestic workers and farm workers for a long time have been excluded from labour legislation and by excluding them they will once again bear the brunt of unfair discrimination. By including domestic workers and seasonal workers will provide women farm workers who work as domestic workers in the off season with a temporary income when they become sick or unemployed.
We therefore recommend that:
****This bill should clearly define seasonal workers and stipulate that these workers are entitled to claim their benefits
******The bill should also define and unambiguously state that all casual workers, contract workers are entitled to UIF contributions from their employers
We are saying that the bill needs to be more explicit in its definition of who the bill seeks to protect. In our view the most vulnerable workers are the ones that need to benefit from UIF as they need insurance against the periods of unemployment forced on them by the nature of the sector.
Women seasonal workers experience the double bind of no protection as seasonal workers and no protection in the off season as domestic workers.
We sincerely hope that the Portfolio Committee on Labour will seriously take our two core concerns into consideration. We believe that the inclusion of domestic workers will be a victory won for the most marginalised workers and will be a positive step for farm workers in believing that the New Government is serious about changing the lives for all workers