The National Minimum Wage Act increases the number of unemployed in the country. The National Minimum Wage Commission, which was formed by legislation, turns a blind eye to the negative effect of the wage on the unemployed.
It goes even further than the politicians to make life hell on earth for the unemployed and domestic workers, as well as small businesses and their employees.
As they learn about the compulsory increases, all people who will be made worse off because of the minimum wage will be saying, “Why don’t you just leave us alone?” Among them will be those who will not get jobs because of the higher minimum wage; those who will not be able to employ more people if their businesses start growing; those who will have no option but to let staff members go because they cannot afford to pay higher wages; and mothers, especially single mothers, who hire young women to look after their children while they are at work.
We have to keep reminding government about the forgotten unemployed. The 11.145 million unfortunate people – 43.14% of the potential workforce – who are made unemployed by legislation, including the act.
When a new labour law is announced by government, we know it will be good for people who already have good jobs. We also know it will be bad for the unemployed, and people who earn low wages and are in danger of losing their jobs because of the new rules.
Where do the unemployed feature in the whole minimum wage story? Do commission members ask low-wage workers if they are happy for their jobs to be put at risk because they want to increase the minimum wage?
Those involved in the creation of the minimum wage do not have to meet with employees to tell them how sorry they are but they can’t afford to pay the higher wage and the employees will have to leave.
The members of the commission fail the unemployed because they do not properly assess the conditions of the unemployed on the ground. They probably do not think it is necessary to do this because their real interest is to improve conditions for those who already have jobs. For the commission, the plight of the unemployed is somebody else’s problem, such as the unemployed themselves and their families.
We, the unemployed, will never celebrate something that is against us. We want to make clear that the national minimum wage is meant for the employed, not the unemployed. As much as the commission thinks the regulation will close the wage gap, the opposite happens – it increases the unemployment rate.
Our Langeberg Unemployed Forum is angry with the commission for not sympathising with the unemployed. Sometimes we are tempted to ask where the commissioners reside. If they live in South Africa, they are obviously completely detached from the reality of the hardships experienced by the unemployed in their daily lives.
Read: The SA government’s tendency to punish what’s right needs to stop
South Africa’s economy is in junk status, yet the commission seems to think that all is well. The decision they have taken to increase the minimum wage under such circumstances, even deciding to accelerate the process of increasing wages, causing more people to lose their jobs and making it even harder for the unemployed to find jobs, is beyond belief.
The devastation these unwise ... perhaps I should say it ... these stupid decisions will have on the lives of the unemployed – making our lives even more miserable than they have been – could not have been worse if the plan had been deliberately crafted to cause the greatest possible harm to the most unfortunate people in the country.
The economic growth of South Africa depends on all of us, the employed and unemployed. Policymakers and advisers need to compromise and make a meaningful contribution to the developmental agenda of the country, which must include getting more than 40 million people working productively, who are now unemployed.
Our contribution as the unemployed is that we must be allowed to negotiate our own basic conditions of employment and our wages with potential employers without any interference from the department of employment and labour.
We, the unemployed, with our motto of Let Me Work, demand our liberation from the draconian national minimum wage and all other labour laws that lock us out of the economy.
The solution is simple and will be easy to implement. We suggest that the unemployed be exempted from the labour laws that cause them to be unemployed. To begin, this exemption can be reserved for anyone who has been unemployed for more than six months. For employers to know who is exempted, people who apply and qualify should be issued with a certificate which will exempt them from the laws that prevent them from getting jobs. We call this document a job seekers exemption certificate.
The holder of such a certificate must have the right to enter into any employment agreement, with any employer, on any terms and conditions they wish, including how much they will earn.
This will allow certificate holders to look for jobs while carrying with them a powerful right, which they now don’t have, to legally agree with an employer on any wage or condition of employment with which they are comfortable. Owning such a certificate, many people who are now without jobs will be hired and earn money to support themselves and their families.
Mpini is the CEO of the Langeberg Unemployed Forum