Cape Town – Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has confirmed that he signed the R20 an hour minimum wage agreement on Tuesday.
Addressing media at Parliament on Wednesday, Ramaphosa said everyone except Cosatu signed the agreement.
"Cosatu was not present to sign the agreement as they asked to get time to complete an internal process of consultation," he said. "The Cosatu president told me now that it needs to report to a CEC meeting in two weeks time."
Ramaphosa made it clear this was not a living wage and was the start of a process to assist 6.6 million South Africans who earn less than R3 500 a month.
"This is an historical development in our country,” he said. “Finally we have a national minimum wage: A national minimum wage which no doubt won’t make everyone happy and excited; a national minimum wage which is going to lift the income levels of no less than 6.6 million workers who currently are (earning below) R3 500.”
“Yes, it could have been lifted to any number you choose,” he said. “But this would have had dire consequences with a huge loss of jobs.
“It is a balance to provide a platform to improve income levels of our people,” he said. “Let me stress: this is not a living wage. This is not meant to be a wage people can live on.”
The signing was supposed to have taken place at Tuesday's InvestSA lunch that President Jacob Zuma hosted in Cape Town ahead of his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Thursday.
The Presidency then announced on Tuesday that it was postponing the signing due to Cosatu’s request to delay the agreement until its central executive committee (CEC) could review the new proposal.
In an about turn, the deputy president then signed the agreement without any media present after the InvestSA event.
Fin24 broke the news of the signing on Wednesday morning, after Dennis George, general secretary of the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) told Fin24 that Ramaphosa had signed the agreement on Tuesday.
“Our friends from Cosatu think they can stop the process,” he said. “Cosatu said they were in agreement and that all they want to do is speak to their CEC. They must tell us when they are ready to sign.”
“This agreement kicks in from May 2018,” he said. “After this, we need to draft legislation and that must go through a public consultation process.
“There were concerns around the R20 per hour salary as employers could try reduce hours,” he said. “But we will put in a law that workers cannot be worse off.”
He said Zuma will spell out the details of the agreement in his Sona.
The deal follows Ramaphosa’s proposal of a R3 500 national minimum wage. He has been heading up the negotiations with Nedlac.
He explained that the panel considered the low level of growth in the South African economy, but also looked at South Africa’s peers, such as Brazil, Turkey and Mexico and how a minimum wage has affected them.
Ramaphosa argued that a minimum wage will be a radical shift to address wage inequality. About 47% of South Africans earn below R3 500, while 51% live on less than R1 600 per month, he said at the time.