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SAFTU rejects poverty minimum wage

The South Africa Federation of Trade Unions has noted with disgust President Ramaphosa’s announcement of the implementation date of the poverty national minimum wage.

It is appalling that an ANC leader, speaking on the very site of the signing of the Freedom Charter, can congratulate himself for condemning millions of worker to live in poverty on a wage of R20 an hour which he kept on admitting is not a living wage.

It is even worse that the President of the Congress of SA Trade Unions, Zingiswa Losi, can share a platform with government and business, and hail this starvation wage as a victory! The same goes for FEDUSA and NACTU, who allowed themselves to be used by our class enemies to present a facade of ‘national consensus’ on this sell-out deal.

SAFTU has always supported a national minimum wage, but insisted that it must be at a level at which workers and their families can live a decent life, with enough money to buy goods and services which are now reserved for the rich elite and a few middle-class people.

That will be impossible on R20 an hour, which will just about keep families alive, but no more.  R20 will even be a lot lower in real terms than when it was first adopted three years ago. When it comes into effect on 1 January 2019, it will have been devalued by the VAT increase, successive fuel price hikes, the increases in ‘sin taxes’ and the price of food, transport and other goods and services.

A Wits University study in 2015 calculated a poverty line that takes the costs-of-basic-needs of South Africans into account in order to link individual wages to household poverty, and derived a threshold definition for the “working poor” of R4 125 in 2015 prices.

The Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute has now done research that sets the decent standard of living at R 7043 in 2018 prices, which is  R3543 more than anyone working for a full month on the R20 an hour NMW will have to exist on.

Thousands of workers will not even be entitled to R20. The minimum rate of R18 for farm workers, R15 for domestic workers and R11 for learners employed under the Skills Development Act and workers on expanded public works programmes will not been introduced until a later date to be fixed by the President.

The President also stressed to employers in his audience that they can apply for exemptions if they say they cannot pay the minimum wage, so that they can keep paying below R20. They will not be slow in coming forward!

Many others, particularly in the informal sector, will just ignore the law altogether and carry on paying casual workers even lower wages for as long as they get away with it. That is why SAFTU keeps urging all workers to join unions and get organised, which is the only way to fight back against ruthless employers

But even employers with organised workers, as SAFTU warned in advance, will argue that the minimum wage is a maximum wage, and offer nothing higher. This has already happened in the current dispute in the plastics industry where employers want to opt out of a R40 per hour minimum wage agreement negotiated at the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC) and impose the government’s poverty national minimum wage of R20 per hour.

Supporters of the poverty NMW have even argued that it will start to reduce South Africa’s world highest level of inequality. How can they square that with Deloitte accountants report 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’ wages.

The rich are so far ahead, that raising the minimum to R20 will make a minute difference and the rich will soon make up for it with big increases in their bonuses.

Even Fitch Ratings Agency has given one of its reason for keeping South Africa in ‘junk’ status as “the risk of rising social tensions due to extremely high inequality”. They are not of course sympathizing with then poor or supporting a higher NMW but are worried at the likely workers’ revolt against such inequality!

SAFTU has embarked on a two-pronged campaign to take forward the campaigns we committed ourselves to at the recent special Central Committee and the Working-Class Summit:

The Living Wage – for a living wage for all workers and against the poverty national minimum wage, VAT and petrol price increases, banning labour brokers, and labour law amendments which effectively ban strikes and pickets. One of the central demands of this campaign will be for a living wage of R12 500 a month, the amount for which the martyrs of Marikana gave their lives.

The Social Wage – on land, housing, education, health, transport, crime and corruption, and link them to the call for action against government austerity policies and illicit capital outflows, and for wealth taxes on the rich.

SAFTU will mobilise a campaign of mass action, together with the Working Class formations, in pursuit of our socio-economic demands, which will take us to every town, village, farm and workplace across the length and breadth of our country, centred around a three-day national strike early in 2019.