NUMSA demands minimum wage increase South Africa: ‘The most unequal society in the world’

South African workers marching against slavery wages – White families still earn five times more than African families
South African workers marching against slavery wages – White families still earn five times more than African families

THE NATIONAL Union of Metal workers of South Africa (NUMSA) is calling on workers to march on March 21 to defend the right to strike against unjust labour laws. The union is demanding that government raise the national minimum wage and is threatening to go to court if changes are not made.

The union said government and the private sector need to work together to stop the exploitation of workers. It warned workers not to let their rights be trampled upon.

NUMSA has held discussions around the national minimum wage, proposed changes to the Labour Relations Act and other labour laws it worries will limit workers’ rights. The much anticipated national minimum wage is due to come into effect in May.

NUMSA said the move, which government describes as a game changer, will not address the plight of workers. Numsa believes the R3,500 monthly minimum wage is not sustainable. ‘You have given ordinary workers a minimum of R20 per hour. You speak about how domestic workers should earn R15 per hour, farmworkers R18 per hour and EPDWP (extended Public Works programme) workers R11 an hour. This is really an insult,’ said the union’s spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi Majola.

The union plans a big march later this month to denounce what it calls unjust labour laws.

Numsa is threatening to go to court if changes are not made to the national minimum wage. A union statement said: ‘For more than two decades the governing party has pursued a diligent, effective and ruthless attack on working class families by promoting disastrous neoliberal capitalist policies, which have consistently failed to address the triple crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality.

‘They commercialised the roads through e-tolls; they regulated labour brokers instead of banning them; and now they are trying to change the law to limit the right to strike, while legalising slave wages though the proposed National Minimum Wage Bill. ‘The neoliberal materialist culture of grotesque inequalities, conspicuous consumption and corruption is continuing unabated, in the post Zuma presidency.

‘NUMSA maintains that only a Socialist state, led by the working class can drive an agenda to nationalise the commanding heights of the economy in the interests of the working class majority.

‘The ANC-led government is attacking the working class with changes to the Labour Relations Act (LRA), Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), and it intends to implement the National Minimum Wage Bill.

‘Together these changes are an attack on the working class and their families because they reduce the hard won rights which workers fought and died for under Apartheid. ‘One of the greatest threats to the working class is the proposal to limit the right to strike. ‘The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) is calling on all workers to unite and fight these proposals.

‘This is a battle of survival and we cannot afford to fail. NUMSA is working with progressive Left pro-working class movements to defend the rights of all workers. ‘Together with the Casual Workers Advice Office (CWAO), Lawyers for Human Rights, United Front, GIWUSA and other working class movements we will fight to protect the right to strike. We are calling on all workers to join us as we defend this sacred right.

‘The state wants to create a pool of cheap labour, which is unable to use the right to strike as a tool to negotiate better working conditions. They want to take away the power of workers to decide when to go on strike and when to end a strike! ‘The National Minimum Wage (NMW) bill is a benchmark for low wages for all workers. ‘Even white collar workers who earn more than the proposed R20 per hour slave wage, can expect to be retrenched, in favour of workers who will earn lower wages.

‘The ANC-led government has been actively promoting inequality. ‘It’s been more than two decades of ANC rule and White families still earn five times more than African families; we are the most unequal society in the world; and more than half the population lives in abject poverty. Sadly the leadership of trade union federations like FEDUSA; COSATU and NACTU have sold out the working class by agreeing to these backward proposals at NEDLAC.

‘They are clearly pursuing their own narrow political agenda at the expense of ordinary workers. There is no other explanation for why they would agree to these changes which reverse our rights as ordinary workers.’

NUMSA General Secretary Irvin Jim is calling on all workers to prepare for rolling mass action. He says: ‘Because government now has set a benchmark and a precedent, employers are going to reduce you as a benchmark to the National Minimum Wage. ‘They are not comparing you to CEO’s who in 2010 were earning 1728 times more than ordinary workers. Today if they were to be honest and disclose you will see huge inequalities between ordinary workers and CEO’s.

‘The ANC has consistently betrayed the working class. We cannot allow them to pay us slave wages, when CEO’s in South Africa are amongst the wealthiest in the world. ‘South Africa leads in the world as having the largest gap between workers and CEO’s. Furthermore, we will not allow them to take away our right to strike. ‘We must remind them of the power of the working class. The Apartheid state was brought to its knees because workers and their families engaged in battles against the state with regular strikes, stay-aways and mass action. We will have to be united so we can fight back and defeat the enemy of the working class.’

• Public sector wage talks, in which progress had been made prior to the tabling of the ANC budget, have begun to falter as unions say they may need to rethink their positions.

VAT and fuel levy hikes announced in the budget have angered unions, which believe this will hit the poor and working class hardest.

ANC partner COSATU union federation’s joint mandating committee chairman, Mike Shingange, said labour’s perspective had been affected by the recent VAT and fuel levy increases and they now had to measure the impact of the increases on inflation and adjust their demand accordingly. He said: ‘We have a revised mandate. We have always said our members must be combat-ready.

‘We are waiting for the minister to come back to the negotiations table. The settlement is supposed to start on April 1 when a three-year deal comes to an end on March 31. We were chasing that deadline.’

Business commentators say that containing the public sector wage bill is essential to rebalancing government spending. Bill projections written into last month’s budget assume that growth will be held to 7.3%. Union leaders said positive progress had been made since the government offered to hike pay for employees on levels one to seven by the consumer price index (CPI) plus 1.5%; levels eight to 10 by CPI plus 1% and levels 11 and 12 by CPI only for the first year of the three-year deal.

But they were anxious about the direction that the budget had taken and wanted to get back to the negotiating table. In January workers demanded salaries be increased by CPI plus 3% for the lowest levels, with a 2% adjustment for levels eight to 10 and 1% for 11 and 12.

The Public Service Association said members had mandated it to take to the streets if the salary negotiations did not work out. However, they were still open to working with the new ministers if they prioritised partnership and do not treat workers’ representatives as opponents, according to general manager Ivan Fredericks.