According to the latest South African Institute of Race Relations survey even though wage adjustments have exceeded inflation over the last six or seven years the employees in the farming and mining sectors are still demanding more.

Mariam Isa’s report  Farm, mine wage hikes ‘fail to curb strike wave’  was first published in Business Day yesterday.

Extracts from the report

WAGE increases in the mining and farming sectors have not satisfied workers despite surpassing inflation over the past six to seven years, according to the latest South African Institute of Race Relations survey.

Monthly minimum wages for farm workers rocketed 51.3% to R1,503.90 between 2006 and last year, the institute reported in its latest South Africa Survey, which monitors trends in society, politics and the economy.   Average monthly salaries for mineworkers climbed 47.3% to R7,328 between 2005 and last year.

Nonetheless, the study highlighted that median earnings for blacks were about a third of what they were for whites in South Africa.

According to figures from Statistics South Africa, unemployment for blacks stands at 29.1% compared with 5.9% for whites, 11.7% for Indians, and 24.5% for coloured people.

“If you take some of the increases that have been talked about (during the strike) into account, you can see that higher amounts of money paid to workers won’t make a dent on poverty and living conditions in the long run,” Lucy Holborn, one of the survey’s editors, said on Monday.

“The only solution is to increase employment.”

The Human Sciences Research Council’s Miriam Altman said on Monday it was “absolutely meaningless” to talk about average earnings in a country like South Africa, where there was such a high level of inequality.   “People who work should be able to achieve a reasonable standard of living and have the expectation that their children will be better off.

” It is unlikely that a lot of people can do that now with the wages that they earn.”

The survey showed that over the past seven years, average monthly wages in the construction sector leaped more than 51% to R4,967.   Increases in the financial and social services sectors were both up about 26% to R7,211 and R8,123, respectively.

Wages in the manufacturing sector rose 23% to R6,245 while pay in the electricity, gas and water sector was up 28.2% to R13,402 — the highest average level for formal employment in South Africa.   Wholesale and retail trade saw a rise of 19.5% to R4,435 — the lowest average level — while the transport sector saw a 5% increase over the seven-year period, which brought the average to R8,457.

“You have to bear in mind that we started off with higher rates of unemployment,” Ms Holborn said.   Figures in the survey suggested that the social and welfare grants extended to more than 15-million South Africans may create a disincentive to looking for work as they provide a reliable alternative source of income.

Every working South African supported an average of about three other people who were not employed, down from about four dependents in 1994, the institute said.   This was still much higher than in other emerging economies such as Brazil and Russia, where each worker supported 1.1 dependents.

The dependency figure includes people who are looking for jobs, those who choose not to work, and those too young or too old to work.

Dependency among black South Africans had fallen significantly from a high of about six people in 1997 to just over three last year, the survey said.