In 2018, South Africa officially introduced a national minimum wage to ensure that all workers have an adequate living income and to promote a principle of a fair wage increase. The National Minimum Wage Act empowers the National Minimum Wage Commission to assess and review the wage each year. As of 1 March 2022, agri-workers are entitled to a minimum wage of R23,19 per hour. The importance lies not only in the amount in Rand, but also in the allocation of time, meaning the wage is measured per hour. No agri-worker may earn below the set hourly wage, regardless of the type of work conducted and regardless of the number of hours worked or bags packed.
Recent SIZA audit findings across all provinces have established that some businesses still miscalculate wages per hour, specifically when using the historically known ‘piece-rate system‘ or ‘stuk-werk‘ as it is known in Afrikaans. What generally happens is that for each bag picked, for example, a specific payment is made. In cases where employees do not pick enough bags, their wage for that day and the number of hours worked do not meet the minimum wage requirements. Unfortunately, the practice of ‘piece-rate’ is incorrect, and facilities should adapt their wage system and payment structures to ensure that each employee (regardless of how many bags or bins picked or packed) is paid the minimum wage for each hour worked. The system where the number of bags or bins picked or packed is used as a motivation to increase productivity, must be utilised as a bonus structure or evaluation bonus, allowing a minimum payment for hours worked (as per legal requirement) and paying a bonus per bag/bin picked once the minimum wage level is reached or over a particular amount/target.
These targets that are set will differ from business to business, and even within a picking team or orchard. This must be determined by the business itself, however, regardless of the targets and bonus structure, the business should still be able to accurately showcase the amounts paid for each pay period, corresponding to the number of hours worked by every employee.
Furthermore, it is also important to remember that any employee who works for four hours or less (for whatever reason), on any day, must be paid for that day for at least four hours. For this reason, it is important to communicate the working hours very clearly and have the necessary policies in place around rainy days for example, should work be stopped for external factors.
It is essential to understand that if you pay less than the required minimum wage, you do not adhere to the legislation or the set minimum wage for a particular period. The responsibility lies with each producer and their management to ensure that each employee receives the payment as agreed to and that it meets (or exceeds) the National Minimum Wage for the sector. It is therefore crucial that all employers ensure that they monitor and adequately verify that every employee receives the payment agreed upon and that it is, as a minimum, equal (or more) than the National Minimum Wage. For information on the penalties applicable by law when employers fail to pay the minimum wage, please view the legislation: National Minimum Wage Act, 2018.