Labour law amendments met with mixed reactions

The labour law amendments passed by the National Assembly on Tuesday have been met with mixed reactions from workers unions, political parties and the business community.

Business Unity South Africa lauded the labour law amendments as signalling a new era of labour stability.

The organisation’s chief executive Tanya Cohen said: “Busa strongly believes that the labour relations amendments have the potential to change the tone of labour relations in South Africa and contribute towards a mutually respectful, job rich, productive and competitive economy”.

Busa reaffirmed its support for the labour law amendments to the Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Bill, the Labour Relations Amendment Bill and the National Minimum Wage Bill, saying the bills were necessary for fostering labour relations stability in South Africa and bridging the wage inequality gap in the country.

The South African Federation of Trade Unions, which had opposed the amendments from the onset, vowed to continue fighting for a better minimum wage for all in light of the announcement and called the minimum wage a “slavery minimum wage”.

The federation’s deputy general secretary, Moleko Phakedi, said the federation would fight “these attack on workers as if its life is dependent on it.

We will not allow the taking away of our collective power which is the right to strike and the implementation of a slavery wage”.

The National Assembly defended the National Minimum Wage Bill, saying it sought to provide for a national minimum wage and establishment of the national minimum wage commission, with clear functions and composition.

“Once passed into law, it will advance economic development and social justice by improving the wages of the lowest paid workers, protecting them from unreasonably low wages, promoting collective bargaining and supporting economic policy.”

Busa indicated that the bills did not seek to take away the workers right to protest, but instead ensured that “the exercise of the Constitutional right to strike is practised together with the right to respect the life of others, as well as the protection from personal harm, freedom of association and protection of property for those not partaking in the protests”.

The amendments included the introduction of default picketing rules that would apply to all industrial action which include the explicit requirement to a secret strike ballot and the introduction of advisory arbitration for violent or protracted strikes.

The major bone of contention came in the minimum wage which had been set at R3500 a month or R20 an hour, except for farmworkers and domestic workers.

This bill was passed by the majority of members of Parliament, gaining 202 votes from mostly African National Congress benches.

MPs from the Democratic Alliance, one of the bill’s biggest critics, walked out before the vote commenced.

The DA argued that “the bills have not been subjected to proper public consultation and their amendment would push hundreds of thousands of people into unemployment.”

Saftu threatened to call for a national shutdown should the ANC-led administration remain set on amending the bills: “We are going to intensify our position... if they still continue to proceed we will be having a working-class summit which we will hope to put the proposal of a three-day shutdown...”

According to the workers union, “Parliament missed a chance to free workers from the apartheid wage gap” and also argued that “the ANC-led government has legitimated poverty” in amending these bills.

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