Saturday, September 30, 2023

Make sure your seasonal farm workers are compliant

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

The agricultural sector heavily relies on temporary seasonal farm workers. The need to rapidly scale the workforce up and then down again means that producers may turn to labour contractors to deliver the additional workers required. However, these contractors are not registered Temporary Employment Service (TES) providers and are often not compliant with relevant laws and regulations, including minimum wage requirements and fair labour practices.

Should the Department of Labour find illegal workers on site, the consequences can be catastrophic, particularly during harvest season. A reputable TES partner can help to avert this problem while increasing efficiency and productivity.

The challenge with seasonal farm workers

Farming and agriculture depend on the whims of nature, so it can be difficult to predict workforce requirements with any degree of accuracy. When exactly a harvest will take place, and precisely how many days it will take and how many people will be needed to complete it, are not factors that can be anticipated. The process is also highly cost-sensitive since the cost directly affects profitability.

Dealing with these challenges requires a flexible temporary workforce solution. Labour contractors provide this, but producers use them at their own risk. They often employ undocumented workers who are therefore not legally permitted to work. Even when the workers are documented and legal, contractors are frequently non-compliant on other areas of legislation.

These unscrupulous contractors will offer farm workers’ labour cheaply because they are not treating them fairly. These workers are exploited, paid less than the minimum wage, and are often subjected to mistreatment and unfair labour practices. This includes illegal deductions, unfair working hours, and more.

Compliance is critical

Legislation and regulations are there to protect people from being exploited and to ensure that they earn a fair wage. If the Department of Labour discovers non-compliant practices, the business is fined for each illegal worker, which can be a crippling expense. In addition, operations could be shut down while investigations take place, which can have a detrimental effect during the highly time-sensitive harvest season.

In addition to local labour laws, there are different accreditation policies and international standards that also must be adhered to, particularly if produce is for export. This includes the Wine and Agricultural Ethical Trading Association (WIETA), an auditable code of conduct that applies to the South African wine industry and associated sectors, including other fruit. Such organisations have standards that must be adhered to in order to ensure fair trade and labour practices, and exports can be affected negatively without compliance.

Reputation is everything

To avoid the pitfalls of undocumented workers, non-compliance with minimum wage, health and safety and sanitation standards, unfair labour practices and other illegal labour practices, it is important to use the services of a TES provider for seasonal and flexible workforce needs.

Temporary employees working for a reputable company will be compliant with all relevant laws, regulations, and frameworks, are treated fairly and with dignity, and they will earn a fair wage. They will also be pre-vetted to ensure they have the relevant skills for the job, and they will have opportunities for multi-skilling and more sustained employment in other agricultural areas with different seasonal requirements.

By removing many of the administrative tasks associated with obtaining a seasonal workforce, particularly a legal and compliant one, a TES partner can save producers time, money, and labour headaches. In addition, by ensuring seasonal farm workers are appropriately skilled and treated fairly, a TES partner can also ensure more effective labour, which can help to increase yield by reducing damaged produce, and therefore directly improve profitability and the bottom line. – Donné Nieman, sales director: Western Cape at Workforce Staffing

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