Unions pitted against each other on National Minimum Wage Bill

Cape Town – Not all unions are pleased with the passing of the National Minimum Wage Bill.

While the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) have welcomed the passing of the bill, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) has vowed to continue fighting what it calls “poverty” wages.

The National Assembly passed the National Minimum Wage Bill, along with the Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Bill and the Labour Relations Amendment Bill, on Tuesday. The bill will go the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) for concurrence.

The National Minimum Wage Bill will ensure that workers will not be paid below the level of R20 per hour. This will address the inequality and poverty problem by uplifting the lives of over six million South Africans earning less than this level, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant explained during her address.

In a statement issued by Fedusa on Wednesday, the federation said it is aware the minimum wage is not a living wage.

“A living wage is much higher than the national minimum wage of R20 an hour or R3 500 a month for a 40-hour week or eight hours a day,” the statement read.

Cosatu called the passing of the bill a “historic victory” as it has been a key demand of the Freedom Charter since 1955, Parliamentary coordinator Matthew Parks said in a statement.

Parks shared views that the minimum wage is not a living wage, and that a living wage cannot be legislated.

"That is something that unions and workers must campaign for. That is something that government must work towards. That is something that business must be compelled to do,” Parks said.

He added that the minimum wage could boost economic growth through increased spending by consumers.

Cosatu plans to campaign for a living wage once the National Minimum Wage Bill is passed by the NCOP.

Saftu however expressed disappointment on the passing of the bills. “This vote in the National Assembly proves how far this former national liberation movement has sunk,” it said in a statement.

Saftu called it a “missed opportunity” to free workers from inequality enforced through the apartheid regime.

“Saftu will now take its campaign to new levels,” the federation said. It plans to demand that laws be repealed for a living wage of R12 500. Saftu also plans to hold bigger marches and stayaways to protest the bills.

The Food and Allied Workers Union also issued a statement condemning the passing of the bills, labelling it “insensitive and despicable”.

Fawu supports Saftu's intentions to challenge the National Minimum Wage Bill in court and said it would support strike actions by the federation to fight the wage.

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