Saftu threatens to take minimum wage war to court

Johannesburg - The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) has threatened to challenge the National Minimum Wage Bill in court if it is passed without input from a wide range of the working class.

Government is currently considering the bill, which will set the minimum pay for workers at  R20 an hour or R3 500 a month.

Saftu is fiercely opposed to the proposal, saying it would entrench the "apartheid wage structure". The federation demands a "living wage" of R12 000 a month.

“The next step would be to go to court if the bill is passed in its current form; we believe that the bill goes against the Constitution,” said Saftu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi.

Saftu has made submissions to Parliament’s committee on labour on the national minimum wage, but remains critical of the process for what it calls ignoring critical views and consultation of a wider group of stakeholders.

“There is a feeling that these regulations are being cut behind the backs of the workers; we have no doubt that the courts would recognise the illegal manner in which they have been conducted,” said Vavi.

“Our view is that there has been inadequate consultation.... the farm workers, domestic workers and retail workers have not been consulted, except for a few sweetheart federations who want it to go ahead,” he added.

Saftu is the country’s second largest trade union federation after Cosatu and represents 30 unions, including the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa.

On Wednesday, a handful of Saftu members were thrown out of the labour portfolio committee meeting discussing the minimum wage. 

The federation said its presence in Parliament was meant to be a peaceful engagement which was met by force.

Vavi said Wednesday's committee meeting endorsed the draft and that the bill would now be debated in parliament.

“We are going to be there in the gallery, we are not letting go of this fight. It is a fight for the survival of the workers, not a few individuals who are in the pockets of politicians.”

Parliament is currently considering a raft of labour bills including the Labour Relations Act Bill and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act Bill. The laws will introduce significant changes to the labour sector, including conditions for embarking on strike action.

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