May 28, 2017

Domestic and farm workers upbeat about May Day

Domestic and farm workers in the eastern Free State are in a euphoric mood ahead of the Workers’ Day celebrations in Bloemfontein on Monday, following the adoption of the minimum wage agreement earlier this year.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa signed a national minimum wage agreement of R20 an hour in February. The agreement will come into effect on May 1 next year. The minimum wage will amount to R3 500 per month for a 40 hour week or R3 900 for a 45 hour week.

Workers have hailed this development as a step forward especially for those doing odds jobs such as domestic, farming and manufacturing.

One of the beneficiaries of the initiative, David Rasuku who works as a tractor driver on a farm in Bethlehem in the eastern Free State, says it will go a long way towards improving the lives of low-earning workers.

“Determining our salaries as farm workers has always been a problem. In winter there is a lot of work and we end up being overworked for the same amount of money that we receive in the other months of the year. This minimum wage has come to our rescue because it stipulates how much we must be paid hourly,” Rasuku said in an interview with The Weekly on Monday.

His sentiments were echoed by Sebongile Mabaso, a 66-year-old domestic worker in Harrismith.

“I have never celebrated Workers Day because there was nothing significant to celebrate. My employer only saw me as her helper not an employee hence she underpays me. I do all house chores while raising her three children as my own, but what I get in return is way below the prescribed minimum wage. At times I would be given food and old clothes, without knowing that was part of my salary,” added Mabaso.

The minimum wage deal was also welcomed by labour federation, Cosatu, who described it as a step in the right direction despite being below the R4 500 it had proposed.

Government settled for the R3 500, arguing anything above it would adversely affect the already weakened labour market as many employers would be forced to retrench workers.

However, the Farm Workers’ Union (FAMU) in the Free State has misgivings about the implementation and employers’ compliance with the minimum wage.

“Undocumented farm workers and domestic workers are invariably not unionised and are often left out because they do not have access to information. White farmers are guilty of exploiting workers and it is regrettable that nothing is done about it because their farms are not accessible even to department of labour inspectors.

In fact, some of these farms are no-go areas,” lamented FAMU provincial secretary Mayoyo Mngomezulu.

Other countries that commemorate Workers Day on May 1 include Angola , Zambia Mozambique , Zimbabwe Namibia , Brazil, Cuba, France ,Italy, Portugal, Malta , Marshal, Island, Panama, Bulgaria, Argentina and China, where it is celebrated as International Labour Day  over three days.

The day is celebrated to highlight achievements made by labour unions and movements in their advocacy for policies that protect workers.

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