Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

New minimum wage may close farm, domestic pay gap

The new proposed minimum wage could see more equitable pay for South Africa’s most vulnerable workers.

The National Minimum Wage Commission has recommended that the earnings of the lowest-paid labourers — farm and domestic workers — be brought into line with that of other workers.

According to the review report, most commissioners recommend that the minimum for farmworkers is aligned with the national minimum wage in 2021 and that for domestic workers by 2022.

If the proposal gets the green light, the national minimum wage will increase by 4.5%. This increase is 1.5% above inflation. For farmworkers, the minimum wage will increase by 16.1%, and domestic workers will get a 20.65% increase.

Farm and domestic workers have been excluded from labour legislation aimed at protecting workers’ rights. This did not change when the National Minimum Wage Bill was first introduced in 2018. Though the proposed R20 an hour minimum wage was widely considered too low, it was set even lower for farm and domestic workers at R18 and R15 an hour respectively. This is despite these two groups representing almost two million workers.

But the proposed adjustments have already received some pushback from the opposition. In a statement released earlier this week, the Democratic Alliance said it opposed the wage hike because it may result in job losses — an argument the party has been advancing since the minimum wage was first up for debate. “This is especially important at a time when Covid-19 and the associated national lockdowns have wreaked havoc on the economy. Retrenchments are on the rise, and unemployment is at an all-time high.”

According to its statement, the DA supports sustainable wage increases in the agricultural and domestic service sectors but believes that increases should not be forced by way of regulation.

The National Minimum Wage Commission’s business representatives hold a similar view. “Employers of domestic workers are mostly employees themselves in other sectors,” its minority recommendation reads. “With most sectors already reducing or maintaining salaries, and retrenchments expected to peak, it is reasonable to expect that employers of domestic workers are going to struggle to either absorb huge wage increases or even keep their employees.” 

The recommendation adds that research has shown that big shocks in the movement of legislated wages cause extensive job losses in the agricultural sector.

The business representatives support a phase-in over four years for farm and domestic workers. 

There is still little indication that the initial minimum wage had any effect on job losses, because the long-promised report by the National Minimum Wage Commission has yet to be released.

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and receive a 40% discount on our annual rate..

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.

Related stories


Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: Zanele Mbuyisa — For the love of people-centred...

She’s worked on one of the biggest class-action cases in South Africa and she’s taken on Uber: Zanele Mbuyisa speaks to Athandiwe Saba about advocating for the underrepresented, getting ‘old’ and transformation in the law fraternity

Update: Standard Bank rejects climate proposal

Climate considerations are pressing Standard Bank shareholders to push for the recusal of those with fossil fuel ties.

More top stories

Denel money woes clip air force’s wings

A senior officer says the shortage of spares and and ability to service aircraft and vehicles has a negative effect on the SANDF’s operational ability

State fails at-risk children as R55m orphanage stands empty

Boikagong Centre in Mahikeng has been closed for almost two years because it did not meet safety requirements. The discarded children say they want a safe place to learn, but instead endure rape and other violence

Wildlife farming vs Creecy’s panel

The departments of environment and agriculture legislation are at odds over modifying the genes of wild animals

Drugs and alcohol abuse rage in crime stats

Substance abuse has emerged as a reason for the spike in crimes during the first quarter of 2021.

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…