Did South Africa just reach a milestone to address the plight of the lowest paid workers?

The South African parliament on Tuesday 29th of May passed a national minimum wage bill in order to address the plight of the lowest paid South African workers. This bill which was passed by a majority of the parliamentarians was championed by President Cyril Ramaphosa when he was the Deputy president during Jacob Zuma’s regime. This is also part of the efforts to boost the economy.

Once this bill is sent to parliament’s upper house for ratification and signed into law by the president, millions of South African workers will now earn R3500 ($277) monthly.

South Africa
Number of South African workers earning below R20 per hour Source: businesstech.co.za

According to Mail and Guardian, South African labour minister Mildred Oliphant said that this is a historic achievement — a direct response to the call made in the 1955 Freedom Charter. A national minimum wage commission will also be established to take over the functions of the employment equity commission. The commission will review the national minimum wage, currently at R20 per hour, annually.

“Every journey starts often with a small step. The journey to address the plight of the lowest paid workers reached a milestone,” Oliphant said.

However, this decision to pass the bill has been criticised. The Democratic Alliance MP Michael Bagraim criticised the “undue and desperate haste” with which the bills ran through the portfolio committee. He also raised concerns over the job losses that would follow. He also noted that the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) did not have a fair opportunity to make its submissions in the consultation processes.

Saftu is also against the national minimum wage of R20 per hour. It previously held protests across various cities in the country in a national strike in April, demanding a living wage. Saftu is demanding a minimum wage of R12 500 monthly. The ANC MP and chairperson of the portfolio committee on labour Sharome Van Schalkwyk slammed them saying that the request is a “massive shock” to the economy.

Meanwhile, workers federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) issued a statement welcoming the finalisation of the bills and called for Parliament to adopt them speedily so that the president can sign them into law.

Apart from the national minimum wage bill, the MPs also approved the Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Bill and the Labour Relations Amendment Bill, which requires unions to rely on a secret ballot before deciding on a strike.