End ’inhumane’ transportation of farmworkers on overloaded trucks
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Cape Town - The transport services available to farmworkers remains a hot debate in rural areas and the agricultural sector, as workers still have no choice but to risk their lives by climbing onto overloaded bakkies or trucks.
The Department of Transport has now indicated that as it considers banning the transport of people at the rear of goods vehicles, it is still applying its mind due to “unintended consequences that may come with such a ban”.
Renewed calls were made earlier this year for stricter regulation of farmworker transport, after 80 people were injured when the truck they were travelling in overturned on the R44 near Klapmuts, Paarl.
The incident happened weeks after a 30-year-old farmworker was killed in a crash when she was among 37 farmworkers being transported on the back of a 4-ton truck when the driver lost control of the vehicle in heavy rain and crashed.
Executive director for the Rural and Farmworkers Development Organisation, Billy Claasen, said they have pleaded for years to have the government address the situation.
“Hardly a month goes by without hearing of a fatal accident whereby farmworkers are involved. In some cases farmworkers died or were seriously injured. Something drastically needs to be done,” he said.
The Department of Transport is the custodian of legislation such as the National Road Traffic Act and National Land Transport Act, to put laws and measures in place to regulate the transportation of workers.
Department spokesperson Collen Msibi said alternate transport modes were not easy to access on rural lands.
“If we look at the agricultural and construction industries, it would be cumbersome to expect the owners to transport their workers to sites on different vehicles other than the one they will be utilising to load the commodity.
“In such cases the transportation would be not for a reward. Furthermore, if such is prohibited it would imply that the farmer or construction owner would no longer offer the transportation and the expectation is that they must be at the work sites which sometimes may not be along the public transport routes.
“It would further imply that workers will have to pay out of their pockets for such transport,” Mnisi said.
Current legislation bans the transportation of people in the goods compartment of a vehicle, if it is for a reward, or monetary gain.
According to the National Road Traffic Act, the circumstances under which people may be carried on a goods vehicle is if the vehicle is of sufficient strength to prevent such person from falling from when it is in motion.
A Wolseley farmworker who spoke on condition that he remains anonymous said fortunately for them, they have never been involved in a crash, but they know of people who have been hurt.
As a permanent worker, he has had to rely on the provided transport for years.
“The safety can be made better for us, but we don’t have much choice to get there,” he said.
Claasen said drafting legislation to make things safer for farmworkers would not cost that much.
“We are also not asking the government to put money into this.
“We believe that there are ways and means to tackle this issue. We believe in dialogue.
“We want to suggest that farmers and farmer organisations make use of the social transformation levies they get every year to subsidise transportation of their workforce, especially during season times.
“This will help them to appoint transport companies to transport their workers in a more decent and safer way.
“The rate at which accidents in the agricultural sector happen is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated anymore.
“We appeal to the big companies and agricultural ethical organisations to look into this proposal. This will help to get rid of this inhumane transportation of farmworkers on open trucks and bakkies,” Claasen said.