SAFTU opposes ‘slave wage’ new minimum wage

AMCU leader JOSEPH MATHUNJWA addressing striking miners at Sibanye-Stillwater
AMCU leader JOSEPH MATHUNJWA addressing striking miners at Sibanye-Stillwater

SOUTH Africa’s Minister of Labour, Mildred Oliphant, says 2019 is the ‘earliest opportunity’ for government to implement the R20 per hour National Minimum Wage, which became effective on January 1st.

‘Previously, (during apartheid) workers didn’t have any rights,’ she commented, adding that the Freedom Charter envisioned a minimum wage ‘but didn’t say by when’.

Oliphant, a former trade unionist was on the campaign trail last week in KwaZulu-Natal ahead of the ANC’s 2019 manifesto launch on Saturday. A key promise of the party’s 2014 manifesto was to investigate the modalities of implementing a basic wage.

‘We have gone beyond that … our democracy is maturing, during the negotiation process, labour wanted to pull out and business also wanted to pull out, at the end of the day, you need to discuss and convince each other,’ Oliphant said in an interview with Fin24. The Ekurhuleni Declaration in November 2014 led to a sometimes fraught process at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) with government, business, the community sector and labour agreeing in 2016 to a R20 per hour minimum wage.

This will be phased in for farmworkers at R18 an hour, domestic workers at R15 per hour and Expanded Public Works (EPP) participants at R11 per hour. The National Minimum Wage commission will come up with a proposal for these categories to increase these salaries within two years, according to Oliphant.

Oliphant sees the minimum wage deal between the sectors as a groundbreaking model for South Africa. ‘If we were able to agree to a minimum wage, we will be able to make sure this country succeeds,’ she says.

Oliphant says she takes objection to the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) and general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi who have opposed the minimum wage calling it ‘slave wages’.

Oliphant points to Saftu’s largest affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) which she says has negotiated hourly rates of R15 and R17 for petrol attendants and these workers stand to benefit from the R20 per hour minimum wage. She admitted it is not ideal for Saftu to fall outside of Nedlac and said the delay was due to the requirement for trade union federations to submit two years of audited financial statements to the negotiating forum.

Alongside the National Minimum Wage Act was the changes to the Labour Relations Act and Basic Conditions of Employment Act, which will give the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) greater powers to intervene in protracted or violent strikes.

Oliphant, commenting on the recent wave of violence during strike action involving the plastic sector and mining company Sibanye-Stillwater, said industrial action should always be a last resort and shop stewards should be better trained on collective bargaining.

The minister of labour, appointed in 2010, was at the helm of the portfolio during the 2012 Marikana and platinum sector labour uprising and the decline in formal employment numbers in recent years. Oliphant believes employers and workers should have mutual trust and be open with one another if the country is to manage the transition towards greater mechanisation as well as changes in employment trends such as increased casual work and contract work.

She also warns that labour should be wary of pushing to follow Germany’s example of including trade unions on company boards as they could be forced to implement collective decisions they disagree with.

  • SAFTU is appalled by today’s report by the Spectator Index which ranks SA’s youth unemployment rate as the highest in the world. Of the countries it ranked‚ the Spectator Index said the five countries with the highest youth unemployment were SA at 52.8%, followed by Greece (36.8%)‚ Spain (34.9%)‚ Nigeria (33.1%) and Italy (32.5%).

As a result there are 6.2 million unemployed South Africans between the ages of 15 and 24! That atrocious figure vindicates SAFTU’s long-held view that the level of youth unemployment is a ticking time-bomb, as a whole generation is being robbed of any hope of a future with secure employment, a living wage or a decent life.

That figure also helps to explain the rise in the number of young people who are seeking escape from this dire situation by turning to drug and alcohol abuse and crime. This leads to poor, working-class communities becoming battle-grounds for armed confrontations between rival gangs controlled by drug dealers.

Part of the reason for this world’s-worst figure lies in South Africa’s dysfunctional public schools. 78% of grade 4 children can’t read for meaning in any language and 61% of grade 5s can’t do basic maths.

While the increase in the 2018 metric pass rate to 78.2% is welcome it should not hide the grim fact that more learners than ever are enrolling for matric but then dropping out before the exams. Of the 624,733 full-time public school students who entered matric at the start of 2018, only 512,735 actually wrote the exams, according to the NSC Examinations Technical Report for 2018.

The number of matrics who drop out before sitting their exams has also been increasing. In 2015, there were 23,389 matrics who dropped out before sitting their exams – a dropout rate of 3.5%. By 2018 this number had increased to 131,067 – a dropout rate of over 20%.

If you compare the number of matriculants against the number of learners who enrolled in the same year, the figure is even worse. Equal Education estimated that the real pass-rate figure for that period ending in 2017 is around 50%, way below that 78.2% just announced. This means that half of all learners leave school with no qualifications at all.

This lack of qualifications and skills however is only a part of the problem, since thousands of matriculants, and even graduates, remain unemployed. The problem is not that employers are turning away lots of job seekers because they lack the necessary qualifications. It is because the jobs simply do not exist, in a country where the unemployment rate is 37.3%. And, with further retrenchments in the pipeline, this problem will only get worse.

The crisis is further compounded by the class and racial gulf between those in public schools who write the Senior National Certificate (NSC) exams and those in private schools who write the Independent Examinations Board (IEB) exams, which recorded a 98.92% pass rate, with 90.65% of those students qualifying for entry to study for a degree.

As Mcebo Dlamini, a former Wits SRC leader and student activist wrote in News24, ‘One does not need to think hard about why there is such a wide gap between the NSC results and the IEB results. ‘It is precisely because government schools are overcrowded, understaffed and under resourced while private schools have better facilities, staff and learner support systems.

‘What is shocking about these parallels between private and public schools is how they have remained intact 25 years after the end of apartheid.’ This two-tier education system has helped to sustain the continuing racial divisions, as more of the wealthy white minority are able to access pay for the private schools.

This inequality is widened by the fact that government spending on basic education per learner in real terms declined between 2008 and 2016 by 8%. In 2010 government spent an average of R17,822 per child, (based on the value of the rand in 2017), but this dropped to R16,435 in 2017 and it has been projected to decrease further to R15,963 by 2019.

This will mean a 10% decline in funding per pupil in the 10 years from 2010 to 2019.

This fall in state funding helps to explain the decline in the quality of basic education.

The average class size of grade 4 classes in SA was 40 in 2011, but increased to 45 in 2016 and class sizes increased in the schools with 60% of the poorest learners, from 41 to 48 per class over the same period. In the schools attended by the richest 10% of pupils, class sizes only increased from 33 to 35 per class.

These figures will get even worse if the government continues with its austerity budgets, to please the credit ratings agencies. This will be one of the issues SAFTU will be raising when its members demonstrate at Parliament in Cape Town and elsewhere when Finance Minister Tito Mboweni delivers his budget speech, and again during the two-day national mass stayaway on 26-27 March 2019. Free, quality education for all!