In November 2017 the Department of Labour published the National Minimum Wage Bill (NMW) which proposes that the lowest wage should be R20 each hour for general labourers; R18 for farmworkers and all working in the Forestry sector; R15 for domestic workers and R11 for Extended Public Works Programme workers (EPWP). This was accompanied by proposals to amend the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA). The window for public comment was brief and came when most workers were headed home for the festive season. Various labour organisations such as unions under South African Federation of Unions (SAFTU) led by Secretary General Zwelinzima Vavi, and civic organisations oppose the passing into law of those bills.
On 30 May 2018, parliament voted in favour of the NWM and the BCEA. SAFTU bloc has issued statements strongly condemning the adoption of these bills as law. The Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) which represents around 125 000 workers, condemned the passing of the NWM and the Amendments to the BCEA by the National Assembly as “insensitive and despicable”. The union says that an increase to R20 per hour is not a meaningful adjustment since sectorial bargaining guarantees workers in the Farm and Forestry sector R16,25 each hour and they would only receive an increase of R1,75 per hour. FAWU also noted the sinister implications of the amendments to the BCEA saying, “we reject with contempt the amendments to the Labour Relations Act that will effectively outsource the right to strike to a determination by some individual commissioners instead of the workers who wish to strike…”
FAWU concerns were echoed in a statement of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA). NUMSA whose membership exceeds 360 000, is the biggest union in South Africa. The statement issued by this giant union directed towards the role of the ruling party, the ANC and its alliance partner, the Congress of South African Unions COSATU). NUMSA says that the adjustments to the wages of the workers in the NWM are too low, further noting that working class families will not be able to raise their families and reproduce themselves with the amount proposed.
“If we want our economy to grow, then advocating for a living wage is the only choice we have if we want to create an economically active workforce which can contribute meaningfully to the economy”, said NUMSA. A living wage has in many circles been decided to be at least R12 500, the amount which slain Marikana workers called for in 2012.
NUMSA also noted the income inequalities in terms colour, with White households earning 5 times what Black households do. This is the leacy of apartheid and the ANC government has failed to reverse these inequalities. Instead, it plunges the working class further into poverty. Ramaphosa’s tenure has seen the working class suffering even worse.
SAFTU wrote that “In its 1969 Morogoro Conference the ANC declared that “In our country — more than in any other part of the oppressed world — it is inconceivable for liberation to have meaning without a return of the wealth of the land to the people as a whole. It is therefore a fundamental feature of our strategy that victory must embrace more than formal political democracy… Our drive towards national emancipation is therefore in a very real way bound up with economic emancipation.”
However, the ANC is overseing bills that impoverish workers and attack workers rights. The union federation has promised to take to the streets to oppose these bills.