Johannesburg: South African farmers on Thursday said more than a thousand labourers had received dismissal notices, days after the government announced the minimum wage would rise by 52 percent.
Employers in one province alone dismissed at least 1,750 farm workers, but lay-offs had started across the country. In Limpopo, labour-intensive fruit farms let go 1,000, Louis Meintjies, head of the farmers association TAU SAsaid.
Agri SA farmers gave notice to another 750, according to the association's executive director Hans van der Merwe. "Big commercial farmers phone us and say 'I'll have to retrench 500 to 800 on a single farm,'" said Van der Merwe.
In the restive Western Cape, farmers were sacking "500 workers at a time", said Meintjies.
On Monday the South African government announced the minimum wage for farm workers would increase to 105 rand ($11.80, 8.70 euro) a day from March 1. The move comes in response to deadly labour violence, which saw thousands of farm workers take to streets in protest at poor pay and conditions.
But farmers have warned the new wage is unworkable. "The general reaction is 'I stop farming. I can't go on like this. I'm scaling down my work force,'" said Meintjies. Workers are now being let go with a week's wage for every year of service. Farm unrest began in the scenic fruit-and-wine-growing Cape region in November. At least three people have been killed.
Workers -- many unskilled migrants -- are demanding better pay and conditions in a sector that is highly dependent on cheap mass labour. The strikes echoed those in the mining sector, which resulted in the deaths of at least 50 people and led to vast wage increases.
The South African Reserve Bank has warned that such wage hikes could result in damaging inflation and job losses.
Unions said Wednesday's news was appalling, but expected. "It's typical of the way farm employers treat their workers," said Patrick Craven, national spokesman for the union umbrella group COSATU. "It shows the need for fundamental transformation of the agricultural sector."