/ 14 May 2018

Labour department accused of undermining ‘meaningful national minimum wage package’

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant.
Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant.

University of the Witwatersrand’s National Minimum Wage Research Initiative has slammed the department of labour for ignoring critical concerns raised by the public and social partners on the impending amendments to the Labour Relations Act (LRA).

The minimum wage and the amendments were set to be implemented on Workers’ Day, May 1, but this was postponed after interested parties cautioned that, if the legislation was rushed through Parliament, it risked being contested in the Constitutional Court.

On April 25, thousands marched against the minimum wage and the amendments in a nationwide strike led by the South African Federation of Trade Unions and members of the #ScrapTheLabourBills campaign.

In a statement released on Monday, the research initiative accused the department of failing to meaningfully engage the concerns put forward by the Parliamentary Labour Portfolio Committee — legislative weaknesses which they say could negatively affect the most vulnerable workers.

The breakdown of the proposed national minimum wage is as follows: R20 an hour for most workers, R18 an hour for farm workers, R15 for domestic workers and R11 for Expanded Public Works Programme workers.

The statement said that both the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) agreement and the committee — which is tasked with considering the scope of the legislative amendments — agreed that the lower wage levels of farm workers and domestic workers should fall away after two years.

But, the research initiative said, this two-year deadline was not reflected in the amendments despite the issue being raised with the department of labour,

The research initiative co-ordinator, Dr Gilad Isaacs said that “the manner in which the department of labour has used the parliamentary process to advance its own preferred outcomes cannot go unnoted”.

The bills, the statement said, are weaker than the Nedlac agreement, which sought to ensure yearly wage increases and implement a meaningful medium-term target.

In the research initiative’s March 16 submission to the portfolio committee, some of these “serious weaknesses” were outlined, including insufficient attention to the role of the minimum wage in reducing poverty, the inadequate protection of casualised labourers, the and vague procedures for enforcing the bills.

The national minimum wage, the statement said, has been promoted since 2014 as the first step in a multi-pronged strategy to reduce wage inequality. This has not found expression in this round of the process, the initiative said.

The research initiative called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to announce the next steps in this engagement and for the portfolio committee to mandate that Nedlac and the labour department report on progress in this regard before the end of the 2018.

Department of labour spokesperson Teboho Thejane has called the statement “incorrect and misleading”. “The department considered all inputs made through both oral and written submissions,” he told the M&G.