Labour Rights Programme
Before 1994, there was no labour legislation asserting the rights and protections of farm workers. While post apartheid labour legislation is largely progressive and aimed at protecting the rights of this vulnerable community, non-compliance is widespread among farmers. At the same time, there are problems around implementation, monitoring, and enforcement by the Department of Labour. In a context of increasing feminisation and casualisation of labour, many seasonally-employed farmwomen face particular challenges as they are not covered by most of the legal entitlements (e.g. maternity leave), are exploited by many labour brokers (e.g. paid below the minimum wage) and are unorganised and neglected by most trade unions.
Farmwomen also face practical obstacles in realising their legal rights, including a lack of knowledge of their labour rights and a lack of the necessary socio-economic means to assert these rights. These obstacles are exacerbated by the location of farmwomen within a system of paternalism and patriarchy, leading to limited agency in accessing rights accorded by law.
The Labour Rights Programme seeks to improve the working and living conditions of women farm workers. The Programme aims at empowering farmwomen to not only know their rights, but also to organise and act collectively to exercise and assert those rights.
Labour Action Group: Focusing on mainly unorganised women seasonal farm workers, especially those living off-farms in informal settlements near rural towns, the programme establishes and trains Labour Action Groups (LAG). The women are trained on key labour legislation and capacitates them to both advise other workers and to act both individually and collectively to claim and assert their labour rights, and expose labour rights violations.
In addition, the programme works with trade unions, farm worker organisations and Advice Offices in a Farm Worker Rights Coalition to coordinate activities and campaigns around shared labour rights issues, such as the Minimum Wage rate.
- Women seasonal farm workers are developing a keen understanding of their labour rights.
- A number of women have been empowered and capacitated to challenge farmers in order to successfully claim their labour rights, specifically around overtime and the minimum wage.
- The programme has successfully encouraged seasonal workers to become trade union members.
- Programme interventions have resulted in the successful reinstatement of many workers who were wrongfully dismissed.
- Labour rights violations have been documented and underpinned advocacy & lobbying activities, such as written submissions to the Department of Labour around the Minimum Wage.
The significant decline in employment rates in agriculture together with the increased casualisation and feminisation of agricultural labour have increased farmwomen's vulnerability by limiting their viable employment opportunities and engaging them in only precarious seasonal work. There are two significant consequences of farmwomen's tenuous employment. Firstly, they are largely dependent on male partners and state social security grants. In a context where gender-based violence is pervasive, women's lack of economic independence contributes to their vulnerability by constraining their ability to leave abusive relationships.
Secondly, there is widespread household food insecurity among farm workers. Research undertaken by WFP in 2011 in Rawsonville found that 57 per cent of farm worker households routinely experience hunger. Furthermore, farm workers experience seasonal food insecurity which coincides with the off-season when many women are not employed.
Clearly, there is a need for farmwomen to both generate an independent income and improve household food security. Women's agricultural cooperatives provide an effective way of addressing both issues.
The Programme aims to promote and support the development of women's cooperatives as a basis for increasing livelihood opportunities and household food security for women seasonal workers. The Cooperatives Programme also aims to promote environmentally sustainable agricultural practices such as agro-ecological cultivation which challenges the dominant land use model where a large land holding is owned by a single (usually white male) farmer. Through skills development, mentoring, and support the Cooperatives Programme builds farmwomen's capacity, improves their economic independence, and strengthens their collectivism.
Cooperatives: WFP has assisted in the establishment of three women's agricultural cooperatives – in Stellenbosch, Rawsonville and Ceres. The Cooperatives have received agro-ecological training and have produced vegetables and gourmet mushrooms, despite challenges in accessing both secure productive land and reliable markets.
Food gardens: To specifically address household food insecurity, the Programme has also assisted in establishing 10 food gardens with women seasonal farm workers living on farms and an informal settlement. The women have participated in agro-ecological training, which has assisted them in successfully producing vegetables.
- Both cooperatives and food garden members have produced food for household consumption, while Rawsonville and Stellenbosch cooperatives have also sold and shared surplus mushrooms and vegetables.
- Cooperative members have acquired a range of skills, including agro-ecological production while indigenous knowledge has also been reinforced.
- Farmwomen's increase in self-confidence and self-esteem has been demonstrated by their rigorous engagement with local municipalities around securing access to productive land.
- Cooperative and food garden members have served as positive role models for other seasonal and unemployed farmwomen who have approached WFP for assistance in establishing other food gardens and cooperatives.
Health and Empowerment Programme
Poor health is pervasive among farm workers and is compounded by the nexus of gender based violence (GBV), alcohol dependence and HIV/AIDS. In 2005, the United Nations confirmed the global universal in South Africa of the intersectionality of HIV/AIDS and GBV. According to the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), 16.5 per cent of South Africans have been involved in relationships characterised by intimate partner violence (HSRC, 2004). At the same time, a study conducted in ante-natal clinics in South Africa found that HIV infection was more commonly found among women who were in abusive relationships.
Through WFP's work and interactions with farmwomen, we know that alcohol is usually implicated in most incidents of GBV, particularly the "domestic" violence experienced by farmwomen at the hands of their male partners. Alcohol abuse is one of the most critical and immediate health issues facing farmwomen. SAPS crime statistics in 2008 show that most crime in rural areas is committed on farms, and 80% of these crimes are alcohol-related. On average, 60-70% of cases dealt with by the SAPS in rural areas of the Western Cape are rapes. In 2007, the Northern Cape and Western Cape had the highest and second highest incidences (respectively) of foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in the world. Attributable to the legacy of the "tot"1 system, alcohol consumption by farm workers is twice that of the urban poor. The psychosocial impacts of alcohol abuse and FAS are still pervasive in the farmlands, contributing to risky and unsafe sexual behaviour, and thereby potentially contributing to greater HIV infection rates.
The Women's Health and Empowerment Programme (WHEP) aims to ensure that farmwomen's health needs and rights are accessible and respected, and that these women are empowered to take individual and collective action around abuses of those rights in the home, workplace and community. WHEP seeks to build the knowledge, skills and confidence of farmwomen to enable them to know, claim and realise their rights to physical and mental health, safety and security. With an emphasis on the right to health, and an understanding of farmwomen's contextual circumstances, WHEP consistently and explicitly highlights the intersectionality between alcohol (and substance) abuse, gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS.
Health Team: WHEP works through farmwomen volunteers or Resource Agents (RAs) who make up farm-based Health Teams. They are trained in various health issues, including sexual and reproductive health, GBV, alcohol dependence and HIV/AIDS. Health Teams play a leading role in health education and mobilisation at the farm and community level.
- Health Teams are capacitated to provide effective and confidential information, assistance and support to farmwomen around various health-related issues, especially alcohol abuse, GBV and HIV/AIDS.
- Attitude and behaviour change has been observed among Health Teams who were assisted in starting food gardens: they became active agents of social change in their communities.
- Other farmwomen have increased knowledge of alcohol abuse, GBV and HIV/AIDS and have the information and confidence to take actions, individually and collectively, to address health issues (e.g. getting tested; securing protection orders).
- A number of Health Teams have been functioning independently (of WFP), including organising activities around 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women.
- Health Team members have developed the self-confidence to play broader leadership roles in their communities – e.g. trade unions and WFP's Board.
1 The "tot system", where farm workers were partly paid with alcohol, can be traced back to the colonial and slavery era of the 1600s and was still pervasive in the 1990s, especially on wine farms. Although officially outlawed in the 1960s, the tot system was still practiced on many wine farms right up to the 1980s. Today, there are suggestions that the "tot system" has taken on new, covert forms. For example, when farm workers buy alcohol from farmer's shops (at inflated prices and on credit), very little of their wages remain after the farmer has deducted the alcohol debts due to him.