No cap. No freeze. No cut. That was the crisp response of South Africans to Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel, who asked for solidarity and sacrifice to achieve his National Growth Path plan released this week.
Business, labour and some top civil servants have joined the growing list of those who have said no to wage and salary cuts and bonus freezes.
The country’s two leading union federations, Cosatu and the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa), have rejected wage restraints. So has Business Leadership SA (BLSA).
“That’s a damn fool idea, we’ll have nothing to do with it,” said Bobby Godsell, the chairperson of BLSA, which is an organisation of the country’s leading chief executives.
BLSA’s chief executive Michael Spicer said the organisation would “completely and wholeheartedly” oppose the minister’s plans to cap salaries or freeze bonuses.
“We will support a discussion on productivity,” he said.
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, who welcomed some parts of the growth path, said: “We will not participate in anything that smells like justification and deepens the current levels of inequality in society.”
Dennis George, Vavi’s counterpart at Fedusa, said South Africa’s constitution guaranteed centralised bargaining.
“We can’t have a situation where government wants us to enter into a wage restraint and salary freeze. We will not agree to that. We have to stick to bargaining councils,” George said.
Meanwhile, City Press’s straw poll of employed South Africans in the country and on social media sites suggests the plan will not get national buy-in. Our reporters interviewed people in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the Western Cape with most saying they would not accept Patel’s proposal.
Wilma Henn (46), a teacher from Pretoria who said she fell in the category of people who earned between R3?000 and R20 000 a month, said she would not accept Patel’s plan.
“I work very hard for the little I earn. If I earned an almighty lot I would have been in a position to contribute but I struggle every month. If salaries are capped, will the price of petrol, food, clothes and electricity also be capped?” Henn said.
Aaron Maepa (55), a manager in the agriculture department in Polokwane, Limpopo, echoed Henn’s sentiment.
“It would be dangerous for the government to cap the salaries of government officials without researching, discussing and negotiating it properly. I would want to know where that money would be going and how it was going to be used.
It is my money and my budget. If they cap my salary, will they cap school fees too?” said Maepa, who earns more than R20?000 a month.
A top unionist who attended a meeting where the minister presented the plan to his former union comrades at this week’s central executive committee meeting of Cosatu said: “I doubt if our membership will accept this. The problem is that it comes at a time when we are embarking on a living wage campaign. You cannot cap salaries when there is such a huge wage gap between chief executives and ordinary workers in the private sector and in parastatals. The fact that he is our comrade will not make us compromise on our rights.”
Patel was general secretary of the SA Clothing and Textile Workers Union before becoming a national minister.
Another Cosatu leader expressed concern that Patel’s plan wanted moderate increases for workers in order to keep inflation low, even though it recognised that the workers’ share in the national income had declined over the past few years.