No jobs for thou­sands of sea­sonal work­ers

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - HENRIËTTE GELDEN­HUYS

THOU­SANDS of sea­sonal work­ers will find them­selves with­out jobs in the wake of last week’s storm which wreaked havoc in the Helder­berg and de­stroyed fruit crops on farms far fur­ther afield.

Fruit farms in the Witzen­berg val­ley, 25km from Ceres, would cut back sig­nif­i­cantly on work­ers, ac­cord­ing to Hannes Hanekom, head of the Witzen­berg Farm As­so­ci­a­tion.

He said 17 ap­ple and pear farms be­long­ing to the as­so­ci­a­tion would nor­mally have em­ployed more than 16 000 sea­sonal work­ers dur­ing pick­ing sea­son from Jan­uary un­til May next year.

Now, sev­eral thou­sand of th­ese jobs would not be filled.

“There won’t be enough work. This is very bad for the sea­sonal work­ers. Even to hold on to their per­ma­nent work­ers will be a chal­lenge for farm­ers,” Hanekom said.

The 17 farms alone had in­curred dam­age worth be­tween R150 mil­lion and R200m dur­ing the hail storm.

About 3 000ha of fruit in the val­ley were dam­aged.

Now, Hanekom said, as much as 80 per­cent of the af­fected fruit would not be packed for ex­port or lo­cal dis­tri­bu­tion. Some could, how­ever, still be turned into juice.

Agri Western Cape spokes­woman Porchia Adams said farm­ers would em­ploy fewer sea­sonal work­ers be­cause “there’s no prod­uct to work with”.

“Farm­ers are con­cerned be­cause it’s the be­gin­ning of the har­vest and they can’t of­fer work to sea­sonal work­ers,” said Adams. Job losses would hap­pen through­out the value chain – af­fect­ing sea­sonal work­ers who picked, packed, stored, loaded and trans­ported fruit.

“It’s very sad and it’s due to cir­cum­stances com­pletely be­yond farm­ers’ con­trol,” said Adams. It was un­likely per­ma­nent work­ers would lose their jobs.

Hen­nie Spalmer, ad­min­is­tra­tion man­ager of the Sterk­wa­ter farm in the Witzen­berg val­ley, said labour was one of man­age­ment’s “big­gest wor­ries”. He said they would do their best to keep their 220 per­ma­nent work­ers em­ployed on the farm. But while they would usu­ally also em­ploy 200 ex­tra sea­sonal work­ers, they would no longer be able to do so.

DAM­AGED GOODS: Farm­worker Aphiwe Iliwe emp­ties dam­aged nec­tarines into a crate at Ou Stasie farm near Ceres.

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