Post-democracy construction wages pathetically low


A labour expert believes workers in the Post-Democracy construction sector should be remunerated better than they currently are, as, annually, the post-apartheid state has been pumping tens of billions worth of money into megaprojects in the past two decades.

Eddie Cottle, currently project leader of Collective Bargaining Support at Labour Research Service (LRS), is worried that the construction sector is “steadily failing both its workers and its transformation agenda”.

The post-apartheid state has emerged as the construction sector’s biggest single client in the delivery of social and economic infrastructure. Creditably, it has encouraged a serious of policy measures to foster the economic growth of South African construction firms. Notably, the main developments is the establishment of a Construction Industry Development Board, the establishment of a Register of Contractors, the scheduling of public sector spending through the Medium Term Expenditure Framework process and support programmes to develop the emerging black sector.

There has been a phenomenal growth in the gross operating profit in the construction sector since 1993, Cottle states, making reference to statistics.

The gross operating profit for the construction sector in 1993 was R6.9 billion and R35.1bn in 2012, which amounts to a 412 percent increase in real terms over a 19-year period. Over the 20-year period from 1994 to 2013, the total productivity of construction workers increased by 123 percent, with an average productivity increase of 6.1 percent per annum. By 2005 the mean hours worked in the construction sector had increased to 49 hours per week or 16 hours overtime per month.

Incongruously, against the backdrop of the sector’s massive growth, he says, according to Statistics SA data, calculations show that  construction workers’ average wages fell in real terms – by 2 percent annually over 20 years. “This implies that the income distribution has not changed substantially and the construction sector has maintained the cheap labour system entrenched since apartheid.”

Thus, he wonders why then have real earnings for the average worker remained almost unchanged since 1995.

* Eddie Cottle’s views are captured in an article “Bargaining Indicators Fees Report 2014: Twenty Years – A Labour Perspective” at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.