SAFTU SAYS R20 PER HOUR NATIONAL MINIMUM WAGE IS NOT A GOOD START! – condemns COSATU for calling it a ‘breakthrough’

SAFTU protest outside the NEDLAC offices against new anti-union laws
SAFTU protest outside the NEDLAC offices against new anti-union laws

General Secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) Zwelinzima Vavi said on Tuesday that Saftu does not agree with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) that the proposed R20 per hour national minimum wage was ‘a good start and a step in the right direction’. COSATU said on Tuesday it was disappointed that parliament and the government would not be ready to implement the long-delayed national minimum wage by May 1.

The national minimum wage envisages that farmworkers and domestic workers get a rate of R18 an hour and R15 an hour respectively and that this is raised to R20 an hour within two years of implementation. But Vavi said the fact that so many workers in the country earned a pittance was the reason why South Africa had become the most unequal society in the world.

‘It speaks to the fact that over two decades of democracy we have seen the beneficiaries of the economy have been the same people who were benefiting during the colonial and apartheid era,’ Vavi said. He added that the fact that so many of the workers earned so little meant the face of unemployment, poverty, inequality and ‘poverty pay’ remained the race group that had been the victim of colonialism and apartheid.

‘To make so much noise as COSATU is making, to beat drums and claim that there is a breakthrough when they are increasing that ridiculous extreme poverty, slave wage to now R20 an hour, R18 for farm workers, R11 for Extended Public Workers, is actually a betrayal of a true radical economic transformation that will ensure that we bury the apartheid wage structure,’ Vavi said.

He said the fact that COSATU welcomed the national minimum wage meant the trade union was captured and had abandoned the interests of farm and domestic workers. He said COSATU had decided at its congress in 2012 that the national minimum wage should not be far below the national minimum living level, which was at R4,500 supporting a family of five at the time, according to calculations by the University of Cape Town.

This, he said, would help people meet their basic needs and that the proposed wages were an insult to the Marikana workers who lost their lives demanding a wage increase. ‘We are marching to the Western Cape to parliament on the 12th of April to call for a national general strike and we are shutting down everything in the economy,’ he said.

Vavi said SAFTU would also take to the streets on May 25 and host special May Day rallies where workers would be briefed on how the minimum wage and The Labour Relations Amendment Bill were an attack on their right to strike. ‘We are happy that the implementation of this minimum wage has been postponed.

‘We are hoping that MPs would listen to farm workers themselves, domestic workers… and truck drivers and hear whether those workers will ever be happy that their wages must be suppressed in the manner that this national minimum wage is proposing,’ he said. The plan that companies will pay their workers a minimum of 20 rand ($1.72) an hour was brokered by President Cyril Ramaphosa last year when he was still deputy president.

SAFTU joined the growing chorus of people demanding that Parliament gave more time to debate the Minimum Wage Bill and amendments to the labour laws, and to properly consult those most affected – South Africa’s workers.

On Monday night Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant announced in Parliament that it won’t be possible to introduce the wage on 1 May as announced by then deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa last year and again in his State of the Nation Address as president in February. Oliphant said that the 1st May implementation was always subject to Parliamentary processes and that she personally briefed Ramaphosa last Friday that it won’t be possible to meet the deadline.

SAFTU will be making a submission to justify the view that these bills represent the entrenchment of a poverty-level minimum wage and an assault on the constitutionally guaranteed right to strike and to bargain collectively. SAFTU said: ‘These laws will have such a devastating impact on the lives of workers, particularly the most vulnerable, and fundamentally undermine their constitutional rights, that they must not be rushed through Parliament without the fullest possible consultation with all organisations concerned.

‘The federation has already written to MPs, requesting them to scrap these Labour Bills and send them back to Nedlac (National Economic Development and Labour Council), but a Nedlac that will not lock out important constituencies such as SAFTU, and urging the portfolio committee to allow SAFTU and others to make oral and written submissions so that we can expose our MPs to the real meaning of this attack on hard-won rights of workers.’

As SAFTU said in its letter to MPs: ‘These Bills are a product of an undemocratic process. They were agreed to behind workers backs at Nedlac, a forum where SAFTU, which is the second largest Federation that now represents 30 unions with nearly 800 000 workers, remains locked out.

‘There was no consultation with workers who are going to be negatively affected by these draconian Bills.’ SAFTU, its affiliates and many community groups have already marched to the Department of Labour in Johannesburg and will be marching to Parliament on 12th April.

Then, on 25th April it will call a general strike, with mass rallies all over the country. The workers of South Africa demand: • Scrap the amendments on strike ballots, picketing rules, longer conciliation and compulsory arbitration. • Restore the right of workers to strike over things like unfair dismissal.

• Bosses must not be able to use scab labour/magundwane during protected strikes.

• Unions must organise the majority of workers in a sector before bargaining council agreements can be extended to non-unionised workers in the sector. • A national monthly minimum wage decided by workers themselves. • The Minister of Labour must still be authorised to make sectoral determinations. • New sectoral determinations for workers who are not presently covered.

• Enforcement of minimum wages must be the job of the Department of Labour, with many more trained inspectors, more powers to inspectors to force bosses to implement the minimum wage and monitoring work of inspectors. • Labour inspectors must consult with workers before workplace inspections. • Scrap the labour bills.

Meanwhile, SAFTU has said it is angered by the shocking revelation that China South Rail (CSR), a Chinese rail company, which allegedly paid bribes (described as ‘fees’) of over R5-billion to Gupta-linked companies after it clinched contracts from Transnet worth R25-billion, now says it wants the government to give it an exemption from its local content obligations, worth R5.3-billion, to continue to supply new locomotives to Transnet.

SAFTU demands that there must be no exemptions for CSR. Railway rolling stock and all its components can, and must, be awarded to South African companies employing local workers. It is one of those key manufacturing industries which was previously thriving but which has needlessly been run down.

In addition the Hawks special police unit and National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) must investigate the allegation of the ‘fees’ payment to Gupta companies, and if these were found to be bribes, both the companies who received them and CSR, which paid them must be prosecuted. This case provides further proof of the extent of the corruption scandal, extending far beyond Zuma, the Guptas and South Africa, to involve huge corporations like CSR. The whole monopoly capitalist system is rotten to the core!