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Oliphant slams national minimum wage detractors

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant has condemned what she calls “propaganda” against the National Minimum Wage Bill during her budget vote speech on Tuesday.

Oliphant counted the impending implementation of the national minimum wage as one of the labour department’s wins in delivering on the Freedom Charter.

But the minimum wage, as well as new amendments to the Labour Relations Act (LRA), has been met with criticism from various pockets of civil society.

READ MORE: Why changes to South Africa’s labour laws are an assault on workers’ rights

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 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. The federation condemned the minimum wage as an effort to entrench “the apartheid wage structure”.

On Monday, the University of the Witwatersrand’s National Minimum Wage Research Initiative has slammed the labour department for ignoring critical concerns raised by the public and social partners on the weaknesses of the national minimum wage package.

The Democratic Alliance, on the other hand, has criticised the implementation of the minimum wage for a different reason. The party has cautioned that it does not take into consideration that imposing such a measure might discourage employers from creating jobs.“Laws should not prevent people from earning a living on their own terms,” the DA says in its policy resolution document.

READ MORE: DA wants workers to be free to opt out of national minimum wage

Oliphant noted that the National Minimum Wage Bill “has occupied the hearts and minds of many South Africans”.

“There are those who have come out in support of this policy intervention, and there are equally those who, for various reasons, are opposed to this intervention,” the minister said. “I have said this before, and I want to once again underscore, that whilst the introduction of the national minimum wage may not mean a lot to those who are well looked after in the world of work, for the majority of the vulnerable workers, it will make a huge difference.”

Oliphant condemned criticism of the bill as “nothing but pure electioneering and attempts to score cheap political points”.

The minister also slammed those demanding that the national minimum wage be set higher, saying that they are “totally oblivious of the consequences of doing so”.

Oliphant also applauded employers who have already started adjusting their wages in anticipation of the national minimum wage becoming a reality. “It is also heartening that the employers in question are adjusting workers’ wages upwards and not downwards as others would want us to believe,” she said.

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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