Half-truths distort the labour issues

2013-09-11 00:00

WE are in what labour and economic analysts call the strike season. Like the Reed Dance, it has become an annual ritual that we just have to go through to get through.

So for all intents and purposes, there is nothing new. You can bet on it happening again this time next year, and in 2023.

What is different about this year’s narrative is the heavy emphasis placed by commentators and employers on the “double-digit salary demands” made by the unions.

This line is then followed by the reminder that the inflation rate is closer to five percent than to the 10% that is being demanded by workers.

This is often juxtaposed with the fact that the top executives in the company took a “below-inflation rate” pay rise, or that they did not get a rise at all.

While it is true that unions are demanding 10% or more, it is disingenuous not to say what that is in real terms: in rands and cents.

One does not need to be an economist to understand that if I pay my domestic worker R1 000 a month and she demands a 20% salary increase, it will mean that she now gets to pocket R1 200 month.

How many of us can genuinely say that such a worker is greedy for asking that she be paid a little more.

If I were to give her a rate equal to inflation, 6,3%, she would go home with R1 063. Hardly any difference to what she used to make.

It is not only madams who have to pay more for the goods they consume than they did last year.

It is worse when you have a CEO like Nick Holland of Goldfields, whose salary climbed by 38% to R45,3 million, in the same year that the business lost R14,5 billion in market value. It would have been a different story if what I am writing here was a great revelation. It is not.

The people who would rather couch the labour disputes in percentage terms know that their arguments are half-truths.

And therein lies the rub. People who continuously want to treat workers and the poor as stupid simply because they do not have the same education as they (the employers) have, are playing with this country’s future, let alone their own businesses.

Being poor and uneducated does not equate to being an idiot. Sooner or later, the workers who are being sold the line that they should stick to the inflation rate, will ask tough questions, such as why they have to be equal with their bosses only when it is about the inflation rate.

The employers had better have the answers, otherwise they are brewing a revolution and aiding the ever-increasing leftist sentiment in South Africa. No amount of carefully chosen phrases by the empowered and the elite will hide the fact that labour stories based on salary percentages distort the real picture of a society that is greatly divided between rich and poor, even in the work place.

• Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is a freelance journalist and former editor of The Witness.


Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya

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