WITS landscape workers, who live in the largest city in South Africa, have been classified as ‘rural farm workers’ by an outsourcing company contracted by the university, allowing the company to pay them a lower minimum wage.
This means they only qualify for a minimum wage of R2 275.74 before their unemployment insurance deduction. Farm workers generally receive additional compensation in the form of food and shelter from their employers but this is not the case with outsourcing company Servest.
Workers don’t want to be defined as [rural] farm workers
Wits Workers Solidarity Committee (WSC) member Shireen Ally told Wits Vuvuzela that existing labour legislation does not formally classify landscape workers. She said the Wits landscapers are seeking to redefine their status. “Workers don’t want to be defined as [rural] farm workers,” she said. “They don’t want to be called urban farm workers.”
[pullquote]If they want to call us farm workers then we want transport, food and accommodation,[/pullquote]
Ally noted that Wits cleaners, following a strike, want to be paid R4 300, almost double what the landscapers are paid. Department of labour expert on labour relations, Thembinkosi Mkalipi,said: “There is no minimum wage for landscaping workers”. Mkalipi said the only way the workers could get a better wage was by negotiating with their employer or finding a union to represent them.
In my view you are not farm workers, you are landscape workers
Servest human resources director Peter Fisher declined to comment. “We choose not to address internal employment matters with the press,” Fisher wrote in an email to Wits Vuvuzela. The landscape workers and WSC held a meeting with deputy vice chancellor of finance and operations, Prof Tawana Kupe, two weeks ago to discuss the matter.
“If they want to call us farm workers then we want transport, food and accommodation,” said Wits worker Thomas Baloyi at the meeting. Kupe told the workers that the university disagreed with Servest that the Wits landscapers were farm workers. “In my view you are not farm workers, you are landscape workers. This is the view of the university,” he said to the workers.
Kupe said Wits wanted to examine Servest’s financial records to find out whether a higher wage was feasible. Mkalipi said under the law, company balance sheets and profits could be used to calculate how much the landscape workers should be paid.