Before 1994, there was no labour legislation asserting the rights and protections of farm workers. While post apartheid labour legislation is largely progressive and aimed at protecting the rights of this vulnerable community, non-compliance is widespread among farmers. At the same time, there are problems around implementation, monitoring, and enforcement by the Department of Labour. In a context of increasing feminisation and casualisation of labour, many seasonally-employed farmwomen face particular challenges as they are not covered by most of the legal entitlements (e.g. maternity leave), are exploited by many labour brokers (e.g. paid below the minimum wage) and are unorganised and neglected by most trade unions.
Farmwomen also face practical obstacles in realising their legal rights, including a lack of knowledge of their labour rights and a lack of the necessary socio-economic means to assert these rights. These obstacles are exacerbated by the location of farmwomen within a system of paternalism and patriarchy, leading to limited agency in accessing rights accorded by law.
The Labour Rights Programme seeks to improve the working and living conditions of women farm workers. The Programme aims at empowering farmwomen to not only know their rights, but also to organise and act collectively to exercise and assert those rights.
Labour Action Group: Focusing on mainly unorganised women seasonal farm workers, especially those living off-farms in informal settlements near rural towns, the programme establishes and trains Labour Action Groups (LAG). The women are trained on key labour legislation and capacitates them to both advise other workers and to act both individually and collectively to claim and assert their labour rights, and expose labour rights violations.
In addition, the programme works with trade unions, farm worker organisations and Advice Offices in a Farm Worker Rights Coalition to coordinate activities and campaigns around shared labour rights issues, such as the Minimum Wage rate.