■ William Pienaar
-Agri-Business Development specialist at Workforce Staffing
Harvest seasons in the South African agricultural industry are short, but intense, and need to be handled with optimal efficiency in order to maximise profits and returns. This makes staffing a challenge, as many additional resources are required for very limited periods. Temporary Employment Services (TES) from a specialist provider can help farmers to get the workers they need, when they need them and minimise the risks associated with a large temporary workforce.
The seasonal staff challenge
The political and economic landscape shaped the agricultural sector, resulting in consolidation, with large producers buying out smaller ones and diversifying their activities. Employment in the sector is heavily regulated by a number of bodies in an attempt to prevent exploitation of farm workers and improve working conditions which is a positive move. However, this, combined with the seasonal nature of the agricultural industry, leads to several employment challenges.
The challenge is that farmers need to dramatically increase the number of employees in season, specifically for physical labour such as picking, pruning, packing and more. The contracts, Human Resources (HR) and Industrial Relations (IR) around this can be complex, particularly since many seasonal workers do not have bank accounts or other relevant documentation.
Often, farmers will employ seasonal staff from outside of their province, yet this means they need to be housed for the duration of the season in accommodation that complies with regulations. It can also create tension within the local communities, as local workers may feel their employment opportunities are being usurped by outsiders. Cultural differences may also prove to be an issue with migrant seasonal workers.
Moreover, during the season, there is a large amount of work to be performed in a limited period of time. Absenteeism, industrial action and even weather can cripple operations. Seasonal employment is fraught with risk, particularly financial risk. A TES provider with the right resources and experience can assist to resolve these challenges with a win/win outcome.
Holistic staffing solutions
The right TES provider can deliver a holistic staffing solution that addresses all of these challenges and allows farmers to focus on their core business rather than spending time on seasonal workers. With a national footprint and database of available resources across the country, the right TES providers will be able to address non-core staffing on a national level, ensuring that seasonal workers are always available whenever and wherever they are needed.
The TES provider will also ensure that staff have the relevant and applicable skills to perform the tasks required, upskilling and cross-skilling where necessary, helping to improve the employability of candidates. A national pool of skills also ensures that local candidates have access to local jobs, minimising resentment and culture clashes within farming communities. Absenteeism is no longer an issue, since additional workers can be deployed should one or several be unable to work for any reason.
In addition, should weather be inclement, farmers need not pay for workers they will not be able to use, and these staff can be deployed elsewhere to ensure they do not lose out on income.
A TES provider will ensure that staffing conditions and contracts are compliant with relevant local and international regulations, including the agriculture sector. All payroll, administrative, HR and IR functions are managed, along with statutory benefits, to ensure that fair wages are paid, and contracts are structured correctly. One further challenge for seasonal workers is that they are often unemployed for the remainder of the year. A TES provider can help them to find work in other seasons, upskilling them in different industries and commodities to extend their income period beyond a single season.
Employment options that grow and scale on demand
The agricultural sector is growing thanks to a focus from the National Development Plan, which has earmarked it for the generation of a further one million jobs by 2030. Many of these opportunities are temporary or seasonal in nature and managing these large fluctuating workforces can be immensely challenging.
A TES provider can help to create the jobs required in a sustainable manner, helping to optimise the labour costs and provide ongoing employment for workers beyond a single season and across the value chain. A TES provider is ultimately a business partner for all of the none-core staffing services in the agricultural sector.