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Is a farmer’s wife also his employee?

By the LWO Agricultural Employers’ Organisation
This question can be problematic. What is the legal position regarding a woman who supports her husband in his farming operations? The answers given to this thorny issue are frequently incorrect and can cause confusion, creating problems for the farmer.
According to the Basic Employment Conditions Act and the Labour Relations Act, a woman who spends more than 24 hours a month helping her husband with administration, transport, orders and physical labour, is legally an employee. She must sign a service contract, receive a salary slip, and be registered with the Unemployment Insurance Fund and the Remunerations Commissioner.
Should a farmer, in this case the employer, fail to meet these obligations, he could be fined R100, plus additional fines for every legal requirement not met. He could also be prosecuted.
This also applies to children, such as a son who farms with his father or a daughter assisting with office work or other tasks. The LWO (Agricultural Employers’ Organisation) is able to assist farmers with this sensitive aspect of labour law and can help them to avoid the pitfalls.
As soon as the “employee” status becomes applicable, the employer – in this case the husband or father – is obliged to meet all the legal requirements in order to avoid prosecution, warns Dannie de Villiers, general manager of the LWO.
In the majority of cases, farms are run as one-man businesses. This means that a spouse or child who assists with the farming is in fact an employee of the farmer, despite the familial connection.
The Labour Relations Act stipulates that an employee is the following:

  • Someone who works for somebody else and who receives remuneration or is entitled to receive remuneration, and who
  • Assists in any way with the continuation or the running of the business of the employee.

In terms of this wide definition, it is clear that any woman who assists her husband with the continuation of his farming activities is in fact an employee and subject to the stipulations of the Labour Relations Act.
A further problem which frequently arises and which can lead to costly and unpleasant disputes is the question of partnerships, particularly in the case of a sleeping partner who is not involved with the day-to-day farming activities. In such cases, the legal requirements and a mutually-beneficial contract is imperative.
The correct contract is also essential in the case of a father-and-son partnership.
Many of the standard contracts sold at stationers and bookstores are not watertight and it is recommended that farmers contact the LWO for advice regarding an appropriate and legally-binding contract.

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