/ 25 May 2018

Ramaphosa yields to wage concerns

ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa at Cosatu's central committee meeting in Centurian.
ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa at Cosatu's central committee meeting in Centurian.

President Cyril Ramaphosa this week reassured ANC alliance partner Cosatu that talks about the national minimum wage would be reopened and agreed that changes are required.

This week the trade union federation pressed Ramaphosa to consider reopening the talks to cut the three-year period to review whether the wage can be increased from R20 an hour to two years. Cosatu also wants to change the Bill to force the National Minimum Wage Commission to consider raising the wage by more than just inflation.

Ramaphosa told journalists that Cosatu still had concerns about the Bill, and these needed to be addressed. “Where there are issues that still need to be tweaked and crossed‚ Cosatu is going to be able to do that. But the process is moving ahead with the full participation and support of all of us,” he said.

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But disagreements over the proposed amendments now threaten to push back the implementation date of the minimum wage until after Parliament’s recess in July, said a member of the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) team, which negotiated the wage. “If Cosatu brings major changes, the Bill will go back to the portfolio committee in the National Assembly. Then it can only be finalised after Parliament’s recess ends in September.”

Cosatu is unhappy about some of the amendments included by Parliament’s legal advisers and the portfolio committee.

“The main issue outstanding is to reduce the medium target of reviewing whether to increase the wage from three years to two years. They dropped that request but we can get it done within a year or 18 months,” said Cosatu’s parliamentary officer, Matthew Parks. “But it comes with a cost. You can get further changes in the NCOP [National Council of the Provinces] during the public hearings but then get a delay in the implementation. The president would have to instruct the minister or the ANC MPs to make the proposed changes during the debate in the National Assembly.”

Parliament’s national minimum wage portfolio committee’s legal advisers finished redrafting the Bill after public hearings and input from the labour department and adopted it this week, with a formal debate and vote in the National Assembly scheduled for Tuesday.

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Chairperson Sharome van Schalk-wyk said the committee considered its work to be complete and believed the Bill would be adopted without major changes in the assembly next week. The Bill will then be sent to the NCOP for more public hearings.

The concession by Ramaphosa to make additional changes follows a public spat between the research council set up to investigate how the wage should be structured and the department of labour, which has taken custody of its implementation.

This week the National Minimum Wage Research Institute (NMW-RI) criticised the department for apparently hijacking the amendment process in the assembly through its legal advisers, and diverting from the agreement signed by Nedlac’s government, labour and business representatives.

“Our responses and input to the Bill have had some impact but there’s significant divergences between us and the final Bill,” NMW-RI chairperson Gilad Isaacs said. “The department of labour has, in a number of instances, either ignored the letter or spirit of decisions taken by the portfolio committee. In key instances, they have weakened the protections the national minimum wage seeks to provide workers.”

But the department’s director general, Thobile Lamati, said: “The view of [Isaacs] towards the [national minimum wage] is informed by a particular interest in maximising the benefit … for workers. This is commendable but does not take account of the competing interests that surround the issue and that must be taken into account by government.”