As South Africa braces itself for today’s national strike, the labour department insists that the national minimum wage will be implemented, it’s just a matter of when.
The minimum wage bill is the main issue for the strike, which is the South African Federation of Trade Unions’ first national strike.
The federation believed that the bill would “lead the poor to live in poverty”.
The proposed bill, which sought to pay workers R20 an hour, was set to be implemented from May 1. It had been delayed because the department of labour was taking “considerations” into account.
Teboho Thejane, spokesperson for the labour department, called the strike action “premature” because employers were not prohibited from paying more than that.
“Remember, it’s the minimum wage bill. The employer can pay the employee more. We are not saying that a person has to earn R20 an hour, but that it is up to the employer to pay more,” Thejane said.
He said the department was trying to ensure that there were no delays in rolling out the minimum wage bill, but all processes had to be adhered to.
“There were requests for input from Parliament and these need to be considered, even though they were received late. We cannot ignore these considerations. As soon as the inputs are considered, the bill will be implemented. The national minimum wage will be implemented, it’s just a matter of when,” he said.
Last week, acting chairperson for the portfolio committee on labour, Sharome van Schalkwyk, confirmed that the bill had been passed back to the department.
“The department of labour must take its time and rework the bill for submission again to the committee. This piece of legislation is critical in our country, not only in fighting inequality, but also addressing abuse of the vulnerable workers in some sectors,” she said.
Meanwhile workers have begun gathering at various points across the country ahead of the day-long strike, which is running alongside the bus strike that began last week.
Saftu’s position is that even though the minimum wage was merely a guideline, employers would pay their employees the same wage by employing them for fewer hours.
Acting spokesperson for Saftu, Patrick Craven, told City Press that it was impossible to estimate how many people would be joining in the strike – which was protected – because the appeal had gone out to the entire nation.
“We have appealed to not just our members but other unions as well, even those who are not part of a specific union. So at this point it is impossible to say how many people will be joining in the strike today,” Craven said.
The Economic Freedom Fighters pledged its support for today’s strike. Its spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said that the proposed bill would entrench poverty, and cause the current inequalities to remain a permanent feature.
“The EFF calls on all workers to support this mass strike action and we demand better standards of living for all workers in South Africa as was promised by the current ruling party,” Ndlozi said.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa was also joining today’s strike.
In Newtown, Johannesburg, the speakers who will be addressing the crowd are Saftu’s president Mac Chavalala and general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.
Gatherings would also take place in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth, Polokwane and Durban.