The Democratic Alliance has rejected the idea of a "blanket, universal" minimum wage, calling for each sector to have its own minimum wage instead.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane, policy head Gwen Ngwenya and labour spokesperson Michael Bagraim briefed the media on Monday on the party's policy outcomes adopted at its seventh elective congress held a fortnight ago.
On the issue of a minimum wage, the party rejected government's pending implementation next month of a national minimum wage of R20 per hour across all sectors.
"The national minimum wage is set to raise the wages for a third of the workforce," explained Bagraim.
"It sounds fantastic, but there is always give-and-take. It means some people are going to lose their jobs."
A national minimum wage would actually work against those who are currently unemployed and make it harder for jobless South Africans to find work, he continued.
"We maintain that minimum wages must be sector specific to curb job losses in marginal industries such as textiles and steel, as well as those where rapid increases will lead to job losses such as agriculture, security services and domestic work.
"We, therefore, reject a blanket national minimum wage in its current form. A one-size-fits-all approach, no matter how well intentioned, will result in job losses."
'Jobless not represented at wage talks'
Maimane said the DA's priority is the 10 million jobless South Africans who were not present at the government, business and labour talks to introduce a minimum wage.
The talks have left those outside the economy further behind, he said.
"The voice of the jobless is completely absent from this process."
The DA has proposed the establishment of an independent panel mandated to set minimum wages for each sector, taking into consideration all relevant factors.
An independent panel would be more able to resist undue influence by politicians, big business or big labour unions who "only represent the employed".
Fragile industries, for instance, could set their minimum wage at R15 per hour, the DA has suggested.
Ngwenya, the DA's recently installed policy head, added that the goal of labour policy is not just to protect workers, but to create a competitive environment.
"It's not because we want to protect workers, but rather to correct an imbalance in power in order to create a competitive environment.
"A minimum wage is a 'floor', not a target, but sometimes you can have a race to the bottom. There is an oversupply for the skills your market does not need."
If the DA comes into power, it would introduce a job seeker's exemption certificate for workers who have been unemployed for 12 months or more, she said.
The document would give such a person the right to take a job at a wage they find acceptable.
The party's proposal is thus a balance between the need to protect workers, but also ensure the market is still competitive, Ngwenya concluded.
Numsa slams DA proposal
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) last week slammed the DA's proposal, saying it was "disgusted" at the idea of an "opt out" option for employees who want to be paid less than the minimum wage.
"Numsa rejects this proposal with the contempt it deserves," Numsa president Andrew Chirwa said in a statement.
"What the DA is saying is that it wants to take advantage of the poverty and desperation of unemployed workers by allowing bosses to exploit them with slave wages for a period of two years.
"It demonstrates what we have always said, which is that the ANC and the DA are ideologically one and the same. The ANC's current proposal on the national minimum wage already allows employers to be exempted from paying the poverty wage of R20 per hour."
Chirwa said the R20 per hour figure would become the new benchmark for low wages.
It is disgraceful that there is opposition to paying workers R20 per hour when some CEOs are earning R69 000 per day, he added.
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