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Your guide to farmworkers and the law

We do not have to tell you how the workers of this country have suffered -and continue to suffer-under apartheid. But we can remind you that some workers are worse off than others- like farm workers.

Farm workers have no minimum working hours and no minimum wage. They cannot claim from Workmens’ Compensation when they are injured at work, nor do they qualify for UIF when they lose their jobs

For a long time a book about the situation of farm workers – and what they can do about it – has been needed. Fortunately, an organisation in Cape Town answered the call.

A few years ago, the Rural Legal Services Project (RLSP) – an organisation of lawyers, rural workers, farm workers and advice officials ­decided to write a handbook for farm workers. But, before the RLSP could publish the book, the government set up the National Manpower Commission in 1982 to investigate the conditions of farm workers and domestic workers, who are the other most exploited and unprotected group of workers.

The lawyers and rural workers were encouraged by the appointment of the Commission. They hoped that it would say that the law must change for the better. So they waited for the Commission’s report because they wanted their book to be up to date.

Then in 1984 the Commission finally released its report and gave it to the government. The government gave the report to the farmers’ unions to look at. The RLSP waited, and waited.

The farmers’ unions have sat with the report for many years, and nobody else has seen it yet. So, the lawyers and rural workers decided to stop waiting. In 1988 the RLSP published their book, “Your guide to farm workers and the law, Book 1”. A year later, in 1989, they published Book Two.

The two pocket-size books are written in easy English, and are useful for farm workers, rural advice workers, union organisers, church workers, teachers and any person who wants to know about farm workers’ legal rights.

The two books try to teach farm workers about their rights. “If you know what your rights are, there is a lot you can do without a lawyer,” the books say. “And even if you do consult a lawyer, there are still things you can do.” Book One gives a step-by-step explanation of the law.

The books also encourage workers to be organised. “But, the law will not help farm workers much. You must also organise yourselves into trade unions!” Book One also looks at the four main industrial laws – Basic Conditions of Employment Act, Labour Relations Act (LRA), Wage Act and Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). There is also a chapter on “Unions and the right to organise” which is very important for farm workers who want to start or join a union.

Book Two has a chapter on “You and the police”. There is a section on important laws like the “Citizenship and the Aliens Act” which affect many workers from the bantustans.

This book also has a chapter which looks at people living on the farmer’s land while working for the farmer. It explains how a farmer can remove you from the land and how one can stop such evictions. Another important chapter in this book is “Pensions” and how to apply for one.

At the end of each book, there are addresses of advice offices, legal resources centres, general resource organisations, trade unions, useful addresses for pensions enquiries and church organisations. It also has a list of useful publications.

“We hope that these books will help you in the struggle to free farm workers from exploitation and oppression,” the authors say.

Perhaps one of the nice things about the books is that they try to “avoid sexist language”. Instead of using “he” all the time, it uses “he or she”. The authors say: “We feel that women are just as important as men, even though the law often treats women as if they are weak or less important.”

Book One and Book Two cost R6 each. You can get them from:

Black Sash 5 Long Street MOWBRAY 7700


2nd Floor Khotso House 62 Marshall Street (off Sauer Street) JOHANNESBURG


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