Black women farmworkers exploited by labour brokers

BLACK women farmworkers are facing a new form of oppression - labour brokers.

This was the message from the Centre for Rural Legal Studies and the Women on Farms project, who told Parliament's labour portfolio committee yesterday that labour brokers needed to be regulated.

The two bodies did a study on farmworkers, labour brokers and farmers on fruit farms in Grabouw, 100km outside Cape Town.

They found that male former farmworkers and supervisors were becoming labour brokers and were importing black women from Eastern Cape for temporary work.

The study showed that none of the 107 workers interviewed earned the legal minimum wage of R1 041 a month. Only five percent had written contracts with the brokers.

Some earned as little as R480 a month and did not have access to UIF after the season ended because the brokers did not deduct UIF from their wages.

Colette Solomon of the the Women on Farms project said the workers did not use brokers out of choice but "out of desperation".

Sharron Marco-Thyse of the Centre for Rural Legal Studies said farm work had also become racialised, with so-called coloured men being permanent workers and black women workers from Eastern Cape earning far less as temporary workers.

Solomon said the women became indebted to the brokers because they had to borrow money from them.

The study found that farmers preferred migrant workers because "locals are more likely to know their rights".

The bodies stopped short of calling for labour brokers to be banned, as Cosatu has done.

They said they feared a ban might end up being challenged in the Constitutional Court.