South Africa Raises Farmworkers’ Minimum Wage in Wake of Strikes

South Africa’s government agreed to a 52 percent increase in the minimum wage for farmworkers following violent pay strikes in the Western Cape province that claimed three lives and interrupted fruit harvests.

The minimum daily wage will be raised to 105 rand ($11.77) from 69 rand from March 1, with a further increase of 1.5 percentage points above the consumer inflation rate for the following two years, Labor Minister Mildred Oliphant said.

“It is time to begin working together toward a vision for the farming sector, one in which the sector expands and creates jobs and where there are better relations between farmers and farmworkers,” Oliphant told reporters today in Pretoria, the capital. “Agriculture is an important sector of our economy and it is imperative to ensure it is stable at all times.”

Workers began striking in November, demanding a minimum of 150 rand a day. Protests spread to about 16 rural towns in the Western Cape, and saw police using tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons to disperse stone-throwing crowds. Packing sheds, vineyards and vehicles were set on fire before the protests were suspended earlier this month.

Higher wages may force farmers to mechanize more of their operations to contain costs, undermining government plans to create 969,500 new agriculture jobs in Africa’s largest economy by 2030 to help cut a 25.5 percent unemployment rate. The number of workers employed on farms has already slumped about 30 percent to 680,000 in the past decade because of farmers replacing workers with machines, according to Pretoria-based Agri SA, the main farmers’ organization.

Agriculture makes up about 2.1 percent of South Africa’s gross domestic product directly and farms produce almost 6.5 percent of the country’s exports, according to government data.

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