Trade unions welcome 'imminent' signing of National Minimum Wage into law

Trade unions on Friday welcomed the 'imminent signing' by President Cyril Ramaphosa of four bills into law which will give effect to a R3 500 monthly National Minimum Wage to begin on 1 January 2019. 

In a statement, the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union said it "enthusiastically welcomes" the move. Trade union federation Cosatu said the expected signing of the bills into law "show[s] the power of workers when united" and were "historic victories".  

A source close to the presidency said the bills would be signed on Friday. 

The National Minimum Wage Bill, the Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Bill and the Labour Relations Amendment Bill were passed by the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) in August and trade unions have previously complained of the delay by Ramaphosa in signing them into law. 

The legislation will see a R20 compulsory hourly rate, which will be phased in at R18 an hour for farmworkers and R15 an hour for domestic workers. 

The minimum wage has been more than four years in the making, following the signing of the Ekurhuleni Declaration by business, government, labour and civil society, represented at the National Economic Development Council (Nedlac) in November 2014. 

Professor Imraan Valodia who chaired the National Minimum Wage Advisory Panel described the imminent signing into law of the minimum wage as historic as it will address the difficult situation the poorest percentage of households find themselves in. 

No massive job losses 

Valodia who is also the Dean of Commerce, Law and Management at Wits University made the R20 per hour proposal in November 2016 and despite inflation averaging approximately 5% annually since then, the legislation will still cover a "significant number" of people who earn below this.

"At R20 per hour, we’re quite happy ... it won’t lead to a massive drop in employment levels and the implementation must be done well. The exemption process is an effective way to deal with potential job losses," Valodia said. 

Valodia added that the minimum wage will also start to address the issue of inequality in SA as much of the value of economic growth under democracy has been distributed to the upper end of the income scales. 

Andre Kriel, the General Secretary of Sactwu, said on a statement on Friday morning that  while the wage is "not yet a living wage, its positive impact will still help many millions of workers to better look after their families".

"By increasing their buying power, the NMW (National Minimum Wage) will also drive demand and stimulate the economy. This must be welcomed. Nevertheless we will continue to fight for a living wage for our members, using this NMW as a platform,” he said.  

Ramaphosa, as deputy president, spearheaded the efforts for a National Minimum Wage and amendments to the labour laws after being appointed by former President Jacob Zuma in 2014. The country at the time was reeling from the effects of the five-month protracted platinum strike and the volatility on the Platinum Belt in 2012. 

The minimum wage was seen as a trade off with labour in exchange for changes to the Labour Relations Amendments Bill which will make it more difficult for unions to embark on lengthy strikes.

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