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CCMA orders farm owner to pay R81 000 in backpay to workers

Publication: Cape Times
Author: Chevon Booysen

A Johannesburg businessman accused of short-paying his staff has been ordered by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) to pay just over R81 000 to his 21 employees.

The decision will benefit casual workers affiliated with the Casual Workers Advice Office (CWAO) and Simunye Workers' Forum (SWF), who won their case against employer, Jan Breeweg, owner of Zanthe Fresh, a farm situated on the West Rand in Johannesburg.

According to CWAO and SWF, Breeweg refused to pay workers the legal minimum wage since June 2023 and said they had received a “slave wage” from the farm owner who supplied fresh produce to large chain stores.

CWAO organiser, Joshua Hlungwani, said the short-paid workers were involved in planting, harvesting, deliveries, and work in the cold room.

“The Johannesburg CCMA ordered Zanthe Fresh’s owner, Jan Breeweg, to pay more than R81 000 to 21 workers to whom he failed to pay the minimum wage in July and September 2023.

“During this time, Breeweg had paid half the workforce the old 2018 national minimum wage of R18.68, even though he was told this was illegal.

“He was clearly taking advantage of the fact that most of the workers he was underpaying were vulnerable workers from Malawi and other foreign nationality workers,” said Hlungwani.

The Department of Employment and Labour announced the new National Minimum Wage is R25.42 per hour, effective March 1 this year.

According to Hlungwani, Breeweg did not attend the CCMA hearing where it was ruled that he owed the group of workers outstanding monies to be paid by November 10.

Breeweg confirmed to the ‘Cape Times’ that he was no longer undertaking any operations as his business had to be sold to recover expenses.

Asked about the amount that he was ordered to pay by the CCMA, Breeweg said it was “a whole lot of nonsense”.

“I have been in contact with the employees and their representatives where I have made it clear that I do not have the money to pay them now and they would have to wait until my farm was sold. Currently, I am unemployed and cannot afford what they claim is owed.

“I also want to add that with regard to the employees, who claim to be owed this money, five of those people were never in my employ.

“I have not taken it up with CCMA but have made arrangements to make payment of R25 000 – which is what my books reflect is owed – to employees who are owed. I did not attend the hearing as I had no means of getting there,” said Breeweg.

He did not indicate if he would appeal the CCMA decision.

Hlungwani said after the ruling, Breeweg phoned the employees and representatives and said “he didn’t owe them anything and would not pay”.

“Currently, the employees are demoralised being faced with not receiving what is due to them. We will wait until November 10 to see if Breeweg will comply but until then workers are worried that they will be earning less than what they are legally entitled to,” said Hlungwani.

The CCMA did not respond to questions by deadline on Monday.

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