The report, titled Ripe with Abuse – human rights conditions in South Africa’s fruit and wine industries, says though the practice of providing cheap alcohol instead of decent wages has been largely eradicated in the province, sporadic instances were still found by researchers earlier this year.
The report is due for release on Tuesday.
Among those interviewed by the organisation was Citrusdal farmworker Piet A (interviewees’ names are protected for fear of victimisation), who said he got daily dop (alcohol) at the farm he had been working on for more than 20 years.
“During the week I am given wine in the afternoon at 12pm and at 6pm in the evening. I also get this on Saturdays. On Sundays we get wine in the morning, afternoon and evening. Everybody drinks except the children and the guy driving the school bus,” he said.
“When I started working at age 12 the dop system was legal, so I started getting dop when I was 12. I don’t like to get the wine because (I’m) scared to get injured on duty but since it is free I take it.”
Of his monthly pay of R1 600 (according to his payslips) he only receives R400, with the rest held back for a food parcel, which the owner claims is worth R800.
The other R400 is unaccounted for.
Another Citrusdal farmworker, Anton B, said: “The farmer does not pay overtime. They give people wine for overtime.”
Government, farmers and the wine industry have failed to comprehensively address the dop system’s lasting consequences and the effect of its ban, the report says, adding that no consensus exists on how to address these problems or who is responsible for doing so.
The Western Cape has the largest number of farmworkers in South Africa at 121 000. Countrywide the agriculture industry employs 603 000 people.
The Human Rights Watch findings are based on interviews with 260 stakeholders in the industry, including 117 current or former farmworkers.
“Despite their critical role in the success of the country’s valuable fruit, wine and tourism industries, farmworkers benefit very little – in part because they are subject to exploitative conditions and human rights abuses, without sufficient protection of their rights,” the report says.
It says the most pressing issue for farmworkers is housing as many of them live in “substandard, unsafe housing that lacks adequate sanitation”.
According to the report, farmers use various ways of getting rid of farmworkers living on their farms as it is illegal to evict them without a court order.
These methods include “threatening them, cutting off electricity and limiting water supplies”, it says.