The 107th session of the International Labour Conference kicked off on Monday in Geneva, Switzerland. The conference will run until June 8.
The conference is arranged by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), a United Nations agency which deals with labour issues, particularly international labour standards, social protection and unemployment.
More than 4 000 worker, employer and government delegates from the organisation’s 187 member states will attend the conference to tackle a wide range of issues.
Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant will lead the tripartite South African delegation, which will include the labour department’s director, Thobile Lamati, other department officials and National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac)-registered trade union federations.
Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali and the general secretary of the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa), Dennis George, will attend the conference as part of the workers’ delegation.
The ILO has appointed President Cyril Ramaphosa to co-chair its Global Commission on the Future of Work.
Ramaphosa joins Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, who has chaired the committee since its inception.
The commission was set up in 2017 to assess the rapid transformations taking place in labour and to identify the key challenges globally and what must be done to make the future of work better and fairer.
As co-chair, Ramaphosa will work with Löfven to oversee the preparation of an independent report on how to provide decent and sustainable work opportunities for all. The report will be published in early 2019.
In a statement the department of labour reiterated that South Africa, as a member of the International Labour Organisation, “continues to play a leading role in ensuring the development of common regional positions whilst also influencing the outcomes of deliberations within the organisation”.
The beginning of the conference coincides with the week the National Minimum Wage Bill is in set to be formally debated in Parliament. The debate and a vote in the National Assembly scheduled for Tuesday.
After a meeting with Cosatu last week, Ramaphosa announced to the media that he is confident the Bill will be implemented later this year.
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 other labour 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 (Saftu). The federation condemned the minimum wage as an effort to entrench “the apartheid wage structure”.
On the other hand, Cosatu, Fedusa and the National Council of Trade Unions — which took part in negotiations for a national minimum wage — have all publicly backed the implementation the Bill.
Saftu, which reportedly has a membership of about 700 000 and is home to major private sector unions such as the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the Food and Allied Workers’ Union, is not registered with Nedlac.
In a statement released by the federation at the beginning of April, Saftu decried its exclusion from Nedlac based on “invented admission requirements” which order that federations be in existence for at least two years before being able to register.
“The federation is convinced that the move to exclude Saftu is not administrative, as claimed by the established federations, but a political ploy to find one excuse after another to block the affiliation of a new federation which will expose and oppose the class-collaborationist policies and sweetheart agreements with employers and government in Nedlac over the last period,” the statement said.