Act swiftly on national minimum wage, govt urged

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Cape Town - The government is being encouraged to move with speed to implement the National Minimum Wage (NMW) of R3 500 a month, which was set to be announced this May Day.  

The Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) on Sunday called on government to push through the parliamentary process relating to the National Minimum Wage Act. However, rival South African Federation of Unions (Saftu) led by Zwelinzima Vavi is warning of mass protests.

Government is currently considering the National Minimum Wage Bill, the Labour Relations Bill and the Basic Conditions of Employment Bill which are expected to introduce the national minimum wage.

Organised labour represented by trade union federations Fedusa, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the National Council of Trade Unions wanted a minimum wage of R26 an hour. However, it settled for R20 an hour following protracted negotiations, with various stakeholders, over a two-year period.

"Fedusa is keenly aware that a R3 500 a month minimum wage is less than an ideal living wage but will certainly lift an estimated 4.5 million workers currently earning below that amount out of abject poverty," it said in a statement.

Fedusa general secretary Dennis George told Fin24 that Saftu should earn a spot at the negotiating table if it wants to be part of negotiations on the matter.

'Improving earning for millions'

Dr Kenneth Creamer, economist from Wits University, told Fin24 it is disappointing that the NMW is not going to be implemented on 1 May.

"We can only hope that Parliament can quickly resolve the outstanding matters that have been raised in the recent public hearings so that the minimum wage can be implemented as soon as possible."

Creamer said the minimum wage is an important intervention to assist low paid workers. "Hopefully in the years to come it will give such workers some leverage in improving their conditions over time towards a living wage," he said.

"If properly enforced, the implementation of a national minimum wage has the potential to lift the earnings of literally millions of low paid workers in South Africa, often referred to as the working poor."

'NMW a slave wage'

The proposed R3 500 a month has been described as a "slave wage" by Vavi.

He warned that the government will be heeding Fedusa's call to implement the NMW at its own peril.

"The introduction on this insulting slave wages - which entrenches the Apartheid wage gap and structure  - will see us going back to the streets," he told Fin24.

Vavi said although Saftu is "emotionally" attached to a wage of R12 500, an amount of at least R5 400 would be more acceptable. 

Vavi challenged politicians to live on R20 per hour when the trade union federation took to the streets this week to oppose the NMW, which was brokered by Cyril Ramaphosa in his capacity as deputy president.

Ramaphosa admitted during Freedom Day celebrations on Friday that the national minimum wage is not a living wage.

"Some people have argued that the starting minimum wage of R20 an hour is not a living wage. They are correct. Some argue that the national minimum wage will not end income inequality. They too are correct," he said.

Ramaphosa said although the national minimum wage was a sign of progress, more needed to be done to improve the conditions of the working poor.

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