* Minimum wage raised to 105 rand from 69 rand from March 1
* Farmers say wage hike will hit business, jobs
* Risk of more unrest after vineyards torched, roads blocked
(Adds farmer comments)
By Olivia Kumwenda
PRETORIA, Feb 4 South Africa raised the minimum
wage for farm workers by up to 50 percent on Monday in response
to a wave of violent strikes, but farmers said the increase
would only cause job losses and more unrest in the major fruit
Labour minister Mildred Oliphant said the new salary, which
has jumped to 105 rand a day ($11.85) from as little as 69 rand,
would come into effect on March 1 and would rise by inflation
plus 1.5 percent in subsequent years.
The wage review follows clashes in fruit-growing regions of
the Western Cape province in December and January between police
and striking farm workers demanding their daily pay be more than
doubled to 150 rand.
Farm owners, most of whom are from South Africa's white
minority, say they cannot afford to pay their mostly black
workers more because of the rising costs of fuel and
electricity, adding that higher wages may put jobs at risk.
"The minimum wage has been pegged above the affordable
level. This is going to have serious negative social economic
impact in the agriculture sector," said Johannes Moller,
president of industry group Agri SA.
Louis Meintjes, president of farmers group Tau SA, also said
the basic salary was too high.
"This is a collective notice by the minister of labour to
farm labourers and farmers that from March 1 a lot of people
will be out of jobs," he said. "Farmers have no choice but to
balance their income and expenditure."
Job losses could spark a repeat of the farm violence in
which police were forced to use rubber bullets and stun grenades
to disperse protesters blocking highways and torching vineyards
and warehouses in the farming belt east of Cape Town.
Oliphant said the relationship between farm owners and
workers, which in many cases has changed little in the 19 years
since apartheid, had to improve.
"The relationship between farmers and farm workers is
difficult and needs to be far better to achieve agricultural
expansion, higher employment and better living conditions," she
told a news conference in the capital, Pretoria.
The strike in the Western Cape came at the end of a wave of
labour unrest that began in South Africa's platinum mines in
August and swept through the trucking and agriculture sectors,
hitting growth and undermining the country's investment
($1 = 8.8616 South African rand)
(Reporting by Olivia Kumwenda; Writing by Agnieszka Flak;
Editing by Ed Cropley and Alison Williams)