The South African agricultural sector has a notoriously bad history of labour relations, arguably because it was built on slavery. With the dawning of a new era, where farmers are increasingly relying on agricultural machinery to farm economically, labour relations are even more threatened.
Farm workers often feel forsaken and done in when they get retrenched, especially in instances where their whole personal history is entwined with that of the farm and the farm owner. It is however often very difficult if not impossible for the farmer to maintain his workforce, as minimum wages is for many a farmer simply unattainable.
Nowadays many farmers choose agricultural machinery over manual labour, as they believe this might limit the chance of them fighting legal battles. They are often not prepared to employ people, as the potential human relations problems that this poses, outweighs the problems agricultural machinery might have, by far.
But agricultural machinery is an extremely expensive alternative. It’s not only the purchase price, but also maintenance, insurance etc. With the rising price of diesel, many a farmer is contemplating reverting back to human labour as opposed to agricultural machinery.
Meanwhile there is general consensus that children of farm workers should have access to excellent schools, so that they can profit from their own productivity. The enormous problem in South Africa of inadequate teaching facilities as well as badly trained and often unenthusiastic teachers remains unresolved.
With an improved education system the children of farm workers might even become the engineers involved in the development of more efficient and cost effective agricultural machinery.
It is also interesting to note that recent data released by Stats SA suggested that the agricultural sector went a far way in realising the target set to the sector by the National Development Plan in terms of creating one million additional jobs. Dawie Maree, FNB Agriculture: Head of Information and Marketing says that according to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey data for the first quarter of 2015, the sector created 183 000 jobs compared to the same period in 2014 and 150 000 jobs compared to the previous quarter. Total employment in agriculture is currently estimated to be just under 900 000. However, Stats SA redesigned the Master Sample, a process routinely undertaken by statistical agencies.
According to Maree the Q1 figures for 2015 were estimates based on the 2013 Master Sample, while the other figures are still based on the 2007 Master Sample. The changes are therefore influenced by the updated sample and we now have to wait for a few more quarters for these changes to take effect and to be able to again compare apples with apples.