ANC and DA in standoff on minimum wage and bills

Cape Town – The ANC and the DA had a standoff in Parliament’s portfolio committee on labour on Thursday about bills aimed at putting the national minimum wage into effect.

The committee received submissions from the Institute for Economic Justice and the Casual Worker Advice Office on the National Minimum Wage Bill and the Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment.

The institute decried the lack of content stemming from last year’s consultation process.

The R20 per hour national minimum wage was approved by Cabinet in November last year.  Government is seeking to have the legislation which will animate it before the National Assembly for debate and approval by the end of March, so that it could be introduced in full effect from May 1.

The national minimum wage could be seen as victory for President Cyril Ramaphosa ahead of the 2019 national elections, especially after he enjoyed ANC-affiliated organised labour support in his successful bid to succeed former president Jacob Zuma at the helm of the party and the country.

However, people who contributed to the initial national minimum wage agreements have raised concerns that some of the aspects they agreed on are not reflected in the bill currently before the committee.

Committee member for the DA Michael Bagraim on Thursday argued that there would not be enough time to consider the bill to enable it to be ready for approval before the National Assembly by March 27.

However, former public service and administration minister, and now ordinary MP Faith Muthambi, said it was needless to nitpick at the details of the bill. She said government could effectively address these while the bill was being debated by the committee and, later, the House.

Muthambi urged committee members to accept the spirit of the bill and not reject it on the basis of temporary factors, such as the status of unions in certain sectors, and the capacity of bodies like the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration. 

Organisations which took part in the process of developing the initial minimum wage have complained about aspects of the draft bill.

This included the absence of a protective measure for workers who fall under sectoral determination once their wage negotiation mechanisms fall away in three years.

The Institute for Economic Justice’s Neil Coleman - who also served as lead negotiator in the Nedlac Wage Inequality Task Team that worked on the national minimum wage - said on Thursday that while the proposed policy is perhaps the most positive development in SA labour in decades, the bill has defects which fail to consider the 2017 agreement between labour, business and government. 

Coleman said the institute recommends that deductions be allowed for food and accommodation for farm and domestic workers regulated in sectoral determination. He said the bill must prohibit deductions for employer contributions from the national minimum wage.

Interim members of the Institute for Economic Justice board include former deputy minister of finance Mcebisi Jonas, former Department of Social Development director general Zane Dangor and Western Cape secretary of the Congress of SA Trade Unions Tony Ehrenreich.

Coleman added that the committee must incorporate labour’s proposal for a 25% cap on the amount employers can deduct as a proportion of the national minimum wage.

A spokesperson for Casual Workers Advice Office said the bill in its current form underestimates the increased workload for the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration and its staff capacity, by passing the mediation function for the national minimum wage to this body.

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