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22 Jun 2015 13:50
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. (David Harrison, M&G)
Momentum for the introduction of a national minimum wage is
gathering pace, with South Africa looking to other countries for guidance on
how to implement this policy.
Under the auspices of National
Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), the government, business and
labour are negotiating over the introduction of a minimum wage.
The first round of discussions are set to conclude in
Opening a workshop on the international experience of
national minimum wages over the weekend, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said
that for the first time there is broad acceptance on the need to introduce a
The parties had determined that a national minimum wage “shall be the legal floor for
a defined period of time, guaranteed by law, below which no employee may be
paid in South Africa”, Ramaphosa said in his opening speech.
said there is broad agreement that a national minimum wage will apply to all
employees, both in the public and private sectors, unless provided for
otherwise by an exclusion, phase-in or phase-out in an upfront agreement
range of other issues had also been agreed upon, he added, including that
“collective agreements, including bargaining council agreements, sectoral
determinations and contracts of employment, may not provide for a wage that is
lower than the national minimum wage, but may only vary wages upwards”.
Currently South Africa sets minimum wages in certain sectors
of the economy through sectoral determinations, set by the minister of labour.
They cover, among other workers, domestic workers and farm workers.
national minimum wage would be economy wide.
bargaining processes govern a range of other sectors such as the mining, manufacturing
and the public service sectors.
said however that depending on the minimum wage level, certain exceptions may
body, similar to the Employment Conditions Commission, which currently
recommends sectoral determinations to the minister of labour, will be
responsible for determining a national minimum wage, he continued.
body will “determine and periodically review a national minimum”.
The commission’s composition, which currently includes
representatives of organised
business and labour and independent experts, provided a “sound building block”
for the future body he said.
The creation of a national minimum
wage, long supported by unions, also has opponents.
But academics believe the impact of a minimum wage
could be far-reaching.
According to Gilad Isaacs, the coordinator of the National Minimum Wage Research Initiative at
the University of the Witwatersrand, minimum wage coverage through sectoral
determinations is “uneven,
exceptionally low, and frequently unable to meet the basic living needs of most
legislation is also frequently violated, said Isaacs.
At a panel discussion hosted by the institute on Friday, a
number of international experts, flown out to present to Nedlac, revealed the
growing global renewal of a support for a national minimum wage.
Experience of minimum wages in countries such as Brazil and
Germany and new research from United States had demonstrated that if they are
properly operated and set at appropriate levels, a positive
effect on wages and inequality was seen, without large negative effects on jobs. This
was according to Patrick Belser, a senior economist in the conditions of work
and equality department of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
The key however was that it “operated properly and set at an
appropriate level”, he said.
‘No substitute for economic growth’
“The issues is not so much should you have a minimum wage or
not. We don’t hear that debate at all very much in the ILO anymore, but [it’s]
really about how the minimum wage should be operated,” he said.
But he cautioned that a minimum wage was no substitute for
It was also very important that there was “sound
articulation” between minimum wages and other policies, said Belser.
This included policies on collective bargaining and other
labour protection policies such as the regulation of working time, occupational safety
and health, maternity protection, and social security.
“Most of them are complimentary and it is together that they
will provide the social protection that workers … need,” said Belser.
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