The Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) will not support any calls to march against the National Minimum Wage (NMW) of R3 500 a month from whatever quarter it comes from as this will be highly irresponsible grandstanding that does not serve the interests of millions of vulnerable workers.
FEDUSA remains fully cognizant that the proposed R20 per hour, translated to R3500 monthly, is not a living wage, but a minimum wage, recommended for 47% of workers currently earning less than R20 per hour. This alone means that half the workers will directly benefit from the NMW that has further been recommended to be subjected to an annual review, to ensure that its value is not eroded over time and that it addresses inequality.
While FEDUSA is disappointed that the Department of Labour has had to push the implementation date of the minimum beyond 1 May 2018 as originally planned, the union federation fully understands the centrality of allowing for the completion of legislative processes and protocols that could not be accommodated by what was intended to be a most significant Workers Day event this year.
Properly crafted National Minimum Wage legislative instruments are critical as they will ensure that all employers in South Africa comply with their provisions and will also allow unions to be the eyes and ears of labour inspectors on the ground.
The South African minimum wage in its current form is the outcome of hard work; local research that has been benchmarked against the experiences of several countries that have implemented a minimum wage as well as the United Kingdom and others, using international examples and best practice as set down by the International Labour Organisation and of protracted negations between organized labour – as represented by FEDUSA, COSATU and NACTU – business and government, at NEDLAC over a two year period.
During the negotiation process – presided over by then Deputy President, now President of the Republic, Comrade Cyril Ramaphosa, organized labour pushed for a minimum wage of R4 500 on the basis of a living wage research that had been conducted on its behalf by the University of Cape Town but had to compromise down to R3 500 in the context of difficult economic realities faced by our country today and to secure the buy-in of other social partners, especially business.
Surely the false narratives being populated can in no way be seen as setbacks for workers, if the main objective of the NMW serves to address poverty, deal with inequality and address the apartheid legacy of low wages. Contextually then, how can a national minimum wage be viewed as a defeat, whilst raising the wages of 47% of workers be considered as a betrayal.
Despite the practical compromises that organized labour had to making during the minimum wage negotiations, we should never lose sight of the fact that more than 4.5 million vulnerable workers currently earning below R3 500 a month, including domestic, farm, retail and personal services workers such as hairdressers will be lifted out of abject poverty by its official implementation.