Alcoholism, theft rife on farms

Remuneration for permanent farmworkers now N$3 418 a month

28 January 2019 | Agriculture

Working conditions of farmworkers seem to have hugely improved, with pay packages having more than doubled over the past 14 years.

However, alcohol and substance abuse, as well as theft, remain a major concern and are some of the main reasons for dismissal.

In 2018 farmworkers received a total monthly remuneration package of N$3 418, in comparison to the N$1 454 they were paid in 2004.

The Wage Survey Report, published by the Agricultural Employers' Association, surveyed 3 288 farmworkers of whom 2 918 were permanent employees.

Of those surveyed in 2018, the average basic monthly pay of permanent employees on commercial farms amounted to N$2138.17, while the total remuneration package of permanent employees on commercial farms amounted to N$3 413.51 on average.

A remuneration package is made up of a cash wage, a cash allowance, dry rations, wet rations, other farm-produced foods (these all constitute the monetary remuneration or basic salary) as well as free housing, livestock and free transport.

Whereas the current minimum wage agreement sets N$4.62 as the basic hourly cash wage for a general farmworker, the survey indicates that on average unskilled farm workers received N$8.20 per hour in 2017/18.

According to the report 36.25% of farmers reported cases of alcohol and substance abuse that occurred amongst their employees within the reporting period.

There has also been an increase in farmworkers being dismissed for alcohol abuse since 2006, from 3.81% to 4.91%.

Most job terminations were employee-driven and mainly consisted of resignations and workplace desertion, while 47.79% of all job terminations during the 2017/18 financial year were dismissals.

The main reasons for dismissal included theft, dishonesty, unauthorised absenteeism, poor work performance and alcohol abuse. Theft by farmworkers had decreased since 2016, from 19.05% to 4.65%.

According to the survey a total of 385 farmworkers left their place of work within the survey period. This figure represents 11.71% of all employees in the survey in comparison with 12.47% in the 2016 survey.

For 2018 the monetary component of farmworkers' remuneration represented 62% of the total package, with the remaining 38% made up of free housing, transport and employee livestock.

Farmers indicated that there were 2 448 employee houses on their farms, of which 43.71% had their own bath and toilet facilities.

The rest had shared ablution blocks. The average valuation price of a typical farmworker's house with shower, toilet and covered veranda is approximately N$3 400 per square metre.

A total of 69.91% of employee households in the survey had electricity in their homes and 25.87% employee households had access to solar power.

“These figures increased significantly compared to the 2016 wage survey where only 55.65% of households had access to electricity and 22.51% access to solar power,” according to the survey.

It says that 23.02% of permanent employees receive a cash allowance (2016 survey – 25.3%) with an average value of N$466, while 12.84% of permanent employees receive free rations which employers buy from shops (2016 – 15.86%) with an average monthly value of N$278.77. These rations include maize meal, sugar, coffee, tea and fish.

Furthermore 67.92% of permanent employees receive meat with an average value of N$433.29 per month and 43.38% permanent employees receive milk with an average value of N$169.98 per month as part of their remuneration packages. Also, 17.02% permanent employees receive other farm produce to the value of N$66.78 per month.

The average number of dependants per employee is 2.31. This figure has increased significantly compared to 1.68 dependants per employee in the 2016 wage survey.

According to the survey 93.75% of farmers indicated that their employees received annual bonuses and 87% employers indicated that their employees received annual salary increases.

There was a decrease in injuries on duty compared to the previous wage report. A total of 9.5% of employers reported 38 injuries on duty in 2018, in comparison to 79 in 2016.

The survey says that 62.25% of respondents (2016 – 71.58%) indicated that they provide free transport for school-going children of employees to and from schools and hostels. Also, 88.50% of the employers in this survey indicated that they provide free transport for employees to clinics and hospitals (2016 – 96.09%).

A total of 89.84% employee households in this survey have access to free firewood. The average value of this additional benefit of farm employees is estimated at N$450 per month per employee.

Only 64 of the 2 918 permanent employees in this survey are members of a registered workers' union, which brings the union representation of farmworkers to 2.18%.

The first survey was done in 1998. The purpose of the Wage Report is to provide sound and reliable statistical information regarding labour in the commercial agricultural sector.