Guest Column

Editorial: Next step is a living wage

2018-06-03 11:09

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Exploitation, appalling salaries and poor working conditions are what many South African workers have grown accustomed to. This applies mainly to the 6 million people who are mostly domestic workers and general workers in different fields. The majority of these workers, who have been voiceless because they do not belong to unions, have been thankful just to have a job which enabled them to put bread on the family table.

Some spend most of their pitiful wages on transport to get to and from work daily. Some do not have the luxury of being active in raising their children, since they leave home in the early morning and only return late at night.

The wages of these workers have, until Parliament’s adoption of the National Minimum Wage Bill on Tuesday, been dependent on each employers’ prerogative.

The minimum wage bill will ensure that no worker in the country earns less than R20 an hour or under R3 500 for working 40 hours a month.

Government asserts that the minimum wage will see these employees being uplifted from their current earnings and help address the dire poverty they face.

The bill has not gained the support of all the workers’ unions, with some saying it will legitimise slave salaries and that it is not enough to address the legacy of the past when those doing manual labour were overlooked as second-class citizens.

Of more concern, the unions say, is that the minimum wage is below the living wage – the benchmark we should have as a country.

While we agree that the minimum wage may not be enough to address the long history of exploitation, it is a good start that should, in principle, be embraced by the country.

It offers the country a start towards recognising that the status quo cannot remain the same after 24 years of democracy. The bill recognises that change is inevitable and that maybe, just maybe, the country needed the introduction of the minimum wage to enable it to start the debate on what constitutes a decent salary.

Once we reach a point where the economy has stabilised and attracted investment, maybe then we can start the discussion on a living wage.

We hope that by then the minimum wage would have gone some small way to helping alleviate crippling poverty for many of our citizens.

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