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April 13, 2018

DA’s plan for national minimum wage exemptions expose its class roots

The Democratic Alliance exposed its true capitalist class character when its federal congress passed a resolution in favour of allowing employees to opt out of the national minimum wage (NMW), and allow them accept lesser salaries “if they so wish”.

The South African Federation of Trade Unions see this as he clearest reason why workers and poor South Africans should have no illusions that the DA will ever act in their interests. It is, always has been and always will be, a party of big business and the country’s privileged elite.

SAFTU has already condemned the poverty-level NMW of R3.50 an hour, as the legitimisation of the apartheid wage structure, which will perpetuate and widen what is already the world’s highest rate of inequality.
The DA however seems to believes that this poverty wage is much too high for some of its employer friends, and so want a Job Seeker’s Exemption Certificate (JSEC) to allow unemployed individuals the right to enter into employment contracts on their own terms, even if the contracts offer a wage less than R3 500.

The exemption certificate, which will be valid for two years, will be given to people who have been unemployed for 12 months or more, giving them “the right to enter into any employment agreements with an employer on any conditions with which they are comfortable…

“The party believes,” says the DA, “people who are willing to take on a salary of less than R3 500 should not be prohibited by laws, which will only serve to increase unemployment.”

This plan flies in the face of the stark reality facing the unemployed and those in precarious employment. The idea that such people can freely enter, and be “comfortable with”, an agreement with an employer, on equal terms, is absurd. The employer is always in the position of power, since many of these desperate workers will accept any job at any wage just to get enough food to live on.

The only people who will “wish” to take on such a salary are those who are forced by poverty, hunger and hopelessness, and have to take anything they are offered. The DA seems to think that this is a good enough reason to allow employers to exploit these workers’ desperation and extract even more profits than they would if they paid even the miserly R20 an hour.

They use the disgusting argument that “any job is better than nothing”, which SAFTU utterly rejects. The reason why the federation demands a statutory living minimum wage, is to ensure that no-one has to make the choice between no job and starvation wages.

Even one DA delegate who opposed the motion said that “This is bringing slavery to our people”!

The proposal is also a huge threat to existing employees, who will live with the constant fear that their jobs could be lost, or their own wages cut, by an employer who reminds them that “there is always someone out there who will take your job for less than I pay you”!

The DA is also fundamentally wrong in its view that low wages create more jobs. If even more workers are forced to live on poverty wages than at present, it will only mean lower demand for good and services, which the poor cannot afford, and therefore fewer jobs in the sectors making and selling those goods and services.

Another DA delegate agreed that there is evidence that NMW can help improve employment and said the party should support a living wage. But obviously his was a voice in the wilderness. The majority are guided by the party’s big business sponsors.

Yet even they should be alarmed by BankservAfrica’s latest monthly data report that “monthly take-home pay reflected a slight decline for February, and only increased marginally by 0.5% in real terms on a year-on-year basis”.

Given that these figures are averages, which include incomes of relatively rich middle class and professional people, the outlook for the poorest earners is looking even bleaker, which is bad new not only for the poor earners but for the economy and country as a whole, and ultimately even the employers themselves, when their rate of profit starts to fall as a result of low demand for their products.

The unjustly jailed former President Lula of Brazil proved when he was in office that increasing the wages and social benefits of the poor leads to faster economic growth, more jobs and greater prosperity.

The DA however is oblivious to this reality, given that it is owned and directed by the wealthy capitalists who are only interested in making the biggest short-term profit as quickly as possible and extracting the maximum surplus value from their employees as cheaply as possible, with no thought for the lives of those workers and the impact of low wages on the economy.