No jobs for thousands of seasonal workers
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.