The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) has consistently opposed both the National Minimum Wage (NMW) Bill, which legislates and legitimises a poverty wage on which no-one should be expected to live, and amendments to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and Labour Relations Act which will undermine trade unions’ independence and workers’ constitutional right to strike.
The federation made a submission to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Labour on 17 April 2018, which explained why we oppose these pieces of legislation and why they must be scrapped. Following this and many other submissions from other organisations the Committee referred the bills back to the Department of Labour (DoL) to redraft them to reflect these submissions and the views of the committee itself.
We have written twice to the Portfolio Committee and all political parties in parliament. Only the EFF and UDM have bothered to engage us. The ruling party in whose name this assault on workers’ rights is taking place has simply ignored us in the same way they ignore the 13 000 service delivery protests a year, unless they turn violent.
The Portfolio Committee resumed its discussion on the redrafted bills yesterday and SAFTU called this press conference to respond to its decision of the Portfolio to ratify the DoL redraft, with just a few minor amendments.
The discussion was particularly important in the light of serious allegations made by Dr Gilad Isaacs, of the Wits University National Minimum Wage Research Initiative. He alleged that “The Department of Labour (DoL), which played a dominant role in the redrafting process, has, in a number of instances, ignored the letter or spirit of decisions taken by the Portfolio Committee (PC).
“This follows their selective presentation of certain issues to the PC suggesting a pursuit of particular outcomes that ignore critical concerns raised by the public and social partners, and thereby undermining the ability of the Committee to conduct a balanced engagement on the Bills before them.
“This’” he added “comes on top of the DoL’s side-lining of a number of aspects of the February 2017 national minimum wage Nedlac agreement between the social partners. In key instances they have weakened the protections the national minimum wage (NMW) seeks to provide workers.”
These allegedly included instructions to reinstate the role of sectoral determinations, to include a two-year deadline by which the lower domestic and agricultural worker minimum levels must be raised to the NMW and not to reduce the independence of the NMW Commission.
If true, this would have meant the department is hell-bent on pushing through its own policies regardless of any contrary views and making a complete sham of the public consultation process, which the Portfolio Committee conducted.
The DoL director general, Thobile Lamati, has now responded in a media statement, saying that objections to the draft national minimum wage bill by the Wits University National Minimum Wage Research Initiative are "bordering on delusion", and dismissed the concerns raised by the research group, saying it undermined the "intelligence" of the parliamentary portfolio committee on labour and implied the department acted “insolently".
His view is supported by COSATU’s parliamentary officer Matthew Parks who told Business Day that it was "happy" with the draft bill and considered the legislation as a "major victory”. "We are happy with the additional changes made to the bills. They’re what we were calling for. They strengthen the bills”.
This is consistent with COSATU’s scandalous support for the poverty-entrenching NMW Bill and the agreement signed at Nedlac by government, business and sweetheart unions. Nevertheless we shall engage COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU directly as we believe that the spokesperson cannot be speaking on a mandate from any worker.
SAFTU strongly opposed this agreement and in particular the role of the federations affiliated to Nedlac - COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU - who endorsed a deal for which they had no mandate from their members and which were clearly against workers’ interests.
It has made SAFTU even more determined to join Nedlac, from which it has been bureaucratically excluded, so that the real voice of the workers can be heard and no more treacherous deals with government and employers will be signed.
The argument about precisely what changes the DoL did or did not make to the draft bills must be clarified, but it will not change SAFTU’s view that these bills are an all-out attack on the independence and democratic rights of unions and workers, and that the NMW Bill is a shameful capitulation to the employers who want to continue paying the lowest possible ages to their workers.
We shall comment further when the Portfolio Committee decision is released and will continue our campaign when the bills are debated in the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, and beyond.
We demand a living wage!
SAFTU insists that the proposed minimum wage levels - R20, and just R18, R15 and R11 for farm, domestic and EPWP workers - entrench and legitimise poverty. Under pressure from SAFTU and its allies both President Ramaphosa and COSATU have now conceded that R20 an hour is not a living wage and therefore a poverty wage.
Government and COSATU are now reduced to defending R20 an hour as that it is at least better than nothing, and justifying it on the basis that so many employers are now paying their workers even less than the R20 NMW which will lift thousands of workers from extreme poverty to just slightly less extreme poverty!
This argument ignores the reality that South Africa is the most unequal country in the world, in which 10% of the population earn more than 50% of the household income while 20% earn less than 1.5%. Deloitte accountants have calculated that the average pay of executives in the country’s top 100 companies is now R17.97 million a year, which amounts to R69 000 a day and R8 625 an hour!
Executives’ salaries have risen from 50 times to 500 times bigger than workers’ average wages, yet it is these grossly overpaid tycoons, together with their new champion in Union Buildings, multi-billionaire President Cyril Ramaphosa, who want workers and their families to survive on just R20 an hour. None of them would accept less than 100 times that amount!
Poverty pay and mass unemployment do not only represent a human tragedy for those directly affected, but they are one of the main reasons for South Africa's economic stagnation. A huge percentage of the population are virtually excluded from the economic life of the country, because they can only afford to buy the most basic essentials.
As former president Lula of Brazil proved, raising minimum wages and social grants led to an economic boom, as far more money was being spent, which turned the wheels of the economy and created more jobs to meet the higher demand for goods and services.
SAFTU demands that the NMW Bill be scrapped and that a living minimum wage of R12 500 a month, as demanded by the Marikana strikers in 2012, must be introduced. That would rescue all workers from poverty and enable them to live a decent life and become fully part of the country’s economy.
Labour law amendments
The federation is equally determined to fight for the scrapping of the Bills to amend labour legislation, which the Portfolio Committee on Labour has also ratified, and which the Nedlac social partners also scandalously agreed to.
The right to strike is enshrined in the constitution, yet already existing labour laws force workers and unions to struggle to attain a certificate to allow a protected strike after an often long and protracted negotiation process. They include a requirement that a precondition for a union to be registered has a clause in its constitution for a ballot of all members before they strike. Most union do use ballots, but this must be a democratic decision of the members, not an imposition by government.
The amendments will now force workers and unions to navigate even more obstacles before they can go on strike, including strict new rules on how balloting of members must be carried out, picketing rules to be agreed with employers prior to the strike, picketing regulations which will prevent strikers engaging with other workers and extending conciliation procedures, even after negotiations have deadlocked.
They threaten to paralyze unions, frustrate angry workers who will be more, and not less, likely to embark on spontaneous, unprotected and even violent strikes.
There is even a clause which will allow employers and/or government to apply for arbitration if they consider strikes to have been going on too long or causing an acute national or local crisis affecting the normal, social and economic functioning of the community or society.
This arbitration is defined as ‘advisory’ but it would enable employers to sit tight, make no attempt to negotiate, wait for the strike to last ‘too long’ or adversely affect their business and then go to court to get the advisory commission to impose a settlement and declare the strike ‘unlawful’.
Unless the union speedily gets a mandate from its members to reject the bosses’ application, it is deemed to have been accepted, which will lead to ‘compulsory’ arbitration, undermine workers’ constitutional right to withdraw their labour, and turn them into slave labourers!
SAFTU and other allied groups have appealed to MPs to reject this emasculation of the working class, and that they should instead be looking at ways to extend workers’ rights, especially for the growing number of vulnerable workers in informal employment, in the face of the increasingly dictatorial power of the employers.
The campaign continues
For SAFTU the fight goes on and will be broadened and intensified. We shall engage the rest of the civil society formations and point out to them that this battle is part of the broader battle for an economy that creates decent jobs for all, a free compulsory, decolonised and high quality public education system, decent houses near our places of work, affordable, safe and accessible public transport system, and an end to criminality and against corruption, etc.
Already yesterday, workers in Cape Town peacefully demonstrated in the Portfolio Committee meeting in support of the campaign, and let the MPs know how strongly they feel. They were then violently ejected from the meeting by Parliamentary security staff.
This is just the beginning. We shall be seen again when the National Assembly and NCOP debate these bills and we shall be taking to the streets again, in ever increasing numbers.
25 April was a warning to government, employers and sweetheart unions that workers have had enough of supporting every increasing numbers of their unemployed families and neighbours, poverty pay, casualisation of labour, the job-loss bloodbath, the use of labour brokers, the VAT increase, restrictions on union rights and stubborn and ruthless bosses.
SAFTU is building an alliance with more and more civil society groups, representing not only workers in formal employment but casual workers, outsourced workers, informal traders, the unemployed and all the poor and exploited people of South Africa
It is time for the workers who create their nation's wealth to rise up to win back a rightful share of that wealth, which the Freedom Charter declared must be shared by all the people. It is time to challenge the dictatorship of white monopoly capital and bring power to the people!
SAFTU calls on workers to remain mobilised. Shop stewards and union officials must keep members abreast of the developments. We have called on workers to consider a two-to-three or more days of a total shut-down of the economy. We propose that this time working class as a whole will occupy all city centers and refuse to leave until the President and parliament agree to scrap all these labour Bills and introduce a R12 500 minimum wage that will make a meaningful contribution to the struggle to end poverty and inequalities. SAFTU NEC is meeting on 22 May to consider this and other ideas of how this battle can be sustained and broadened.
Accordingly we shall hold another press conference on 23 May to announce a further programme of action.
Issued by SAFTU