Pitts Farms in the US has found itself in hot water for discriminating against black local workers who have been “systematically underpaid and denied job opportunities” in favour of white South Africans.
The group of six former workers filed a lawsuit against the Mississippi-based operation, which is a large producer of cotton, soybeans, and corn. According to the lawsuit, Pitts Farms Partnership used to have a pre-dominantly black workforce but in the beginning of 2014, they began solely employing white workers from South Africa through the H-2A visa programme, which is specific to temporary agricultural workers.
According to Business Insider, South Africans are very popular among H-2A employers in the US. In order to obtain this visa, their employers must “[d]emonstrate that there are not enough US workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to do the temporary work,” as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services outlines.
Although Pitts Farms kept the six black farmers on, and even had them train the H-2A workers, it paid them $2 to $4 less per hour, which is basically minimum wage.
To unpack this further, the complaint states that South Africans were paid a standard state rate that started at $9.87 per hour in 2014 and rose to $11.83 (the equivalent of around R170 at current exchange rates) in 2020. At the same time the black locals were lucky to make $9 per hour for driving heavy trucks while ordinary labourers got $7.25 per hour.
The farm “intentionally paid its Black workforce less than its white foreign workers for the same or similar work. The white foreign workers were also given other benefits not provided to Plaintiffs and other Black domestic workers,” the complaint says. This includes black workers who were charged for using accommodation on the farm, while the white South Africans lived rent free and in better housing.
Ty Pinkins of the Mississippi Center for Justice expressed to a news site that “With the unemployment rate in the Delta hovering at around 10 percent, it is unacceptable and unlawful that local farmers are looking to hire foreign labor before people in their own communities.”
The six black workers are now demanding compensation for discrimination.