Labour Ministry not endorsing wage increase for farm workers

Niël Terblanché

The recent announcement by the Namibia Agricultural Labour Forum (NALF) that it has successfully concluded negotiations to increase the minimum wage for farmworkers in both the commercial and communal farming sectors, has been welcomed by the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation.

The NALF announced that wages will increase by ten percent over the previous year’s minimum wage. The current minimum wage, which was in place throughout 2022, is set to rise to N$6.00 per hour or N$1,170 per month for employees working a 45-hour workweek.

Additionally, workers who do not receive free rations will see their monthly ration allowance increase to N$650. As a result, the minimum basic wage for farmworkers will stand at N$1,820 per month from 1 October 2023.

The labour ministry welcomed the step to achieve a decent living wage for all working Namibians but felt that it needed to clarify certain issues surrounding the announcement of a new minimum wage for farm workers.

The Acting Executive Director of the labour ministry, Lydia Indombo said that the institution has been inundated with requests to avail more information about the agreement announced by the NALF.

Indombo made it clear that the minimum wage is only binding to the members of the parties to the collective agreement until such a time when the labour ministry is formally requested in the prescribed manner, to extend the agreed-upon wage structure to the entire agricultural sector.

“The minimum wage only becomes binding to the entire sector once it’s published in the Government Gazette. Although not legally obligated, there is nothing preventing non-members to the collective agreement to remunerate their employees the minimum wage announced by the NALF or even more, since it is merely a minimum wage,” she said.

According to Indombo, the Agricultural Employers Association (AEA) has, in the past, requested the Minister to extend the collective agreement, but the request could not be approved due to some conflicting details in terms of submission contrary to the provisions of the Labow Act (No. 11 of 2007).

The NALF emphasized in its announcement, that the minimum wage is designed as an entry-level wage primarily intended for young and inexperienced farmworkers. The organization stated that experienced farm workers typically receive higher salaries.

According to the NALF, benefits provided to farm workers, such as free housing, rations, water, electricity, and firewood, make them better off than many workers in other industries because workers in other sectors often need to allocate a significant portion of their income to cover these essential living expenses.

The NALF announced that it has agreed to a future-oriented approach by mandating that minimum wage adjustments within the agricultural sector be collectively negotiated on an annual basis.

The wage increase, as announced by the NALF, was seen by many as a significant step forward in recognizing and addressing the rights and working conditions of Namibia’s farm labour force.

Not only did the agreement ensure better compensation for farmworkers but it also provides stability and predictability through annual adjustments, reflecting a commitment to improving the quality of workers in the agricultural sector.

“The ministry will ensure that this minimum wage becomes sectoral bound if the parties to the agreement are willing to request the minister to extend it to the entire sector and that the submission is done in the fulfilment of the provisions of the Labour Act,” Indombo stated.

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