​Labour department fights to keep control of minimum wage

The farm worker strike that resumed in the Western Cape on January 9 2013 did so with violent protests in the Hex River Valley town of De Doorns. (David Harrison, M&G)

The farm worker strike that resumed in the Western Cape on January 9 2013 did so with violent protests in the Hex River Valley town of De Doorns. (David Harrison, M&G)

The labour department is digging in its heels over a new commission to adjust and monitor the national minimum wage, saying it would duplicate the mandate of two other commissions in the department.

This week the National Economic Develop­ment and Labour Council (Nedlac) will reconvene a meeting of state, business and union representatives following an advisory panel’s recommendation in November for a minimum wage of R3 500 a month or R20 an hour, and the proposed commission on decent work.

But the labour department will oppose the formation of this commission during this second round of talks.

The panel, set up by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, was tasked with proposing a minimum wage, a review and management of that, and to conduct a short- and long-term assessment of its effect on the economy and job security.

The panel proposed legislation to establish the new wage system and a commission on decent work. The plan is that the Employment Equity Commission (EEC) and the Employment Conditions Commission (ECC) will be incorporated into the new body. The new body will operate independently.

The panel has also recommended that the commission on decent work monitor the implementation of the wage proposals and adjust the levels according to fluctuating costs of living and consumer price index inflation.

But the labour department’s director general, Thobile Lamati, said the new body is unnecessary because both the ECC and the EEC are able to monitor and adjust the levels.

“We are currently discussing the DWC [decent work commission] proposals. We don’t believe the ECC currently has unnecessary capacity. We will be looking at whether there is not actually a duplication in the work that the DWC is supposed to do and what the department is currently able to do,” Lamati said.

The department hasn’t lodged a formal objection yet and it hopes “to have this matter resolved when the stakeholders” meet.

But the panel said it would be best to create a new, independent body. Its rationale is to avoid creating an additional national minimum wage commission, which could lead to “fostering fragmented and silo mentality policies rather than an integrated approach to decent work”.

The panel said it wanted to avoid having three commissions in the department with overlapping mandates.

Another concern was that this could lead to the reintroduction of the current sectoral wage determinations when the minimum wage is considered for revision.

“Consolidating and revising the existing institutions and incorporating the NMW [national minimum wage] system within this consolidated structure outweighed any benefits that might be derived from fitting the NMW rule within the existing system for sectoral determinations,” the panel said.

If the panel’s plan to incorporate the commissions into the decent work commission go ahead, it will operate under a decent work commissioner and not the labour department.

The panel has recommended that the commissioner be appointed by the labour minister in consultation with the presidency and Nedlac.

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