The South African Federation of Trade Unions urges Parliament to reject the National Minimum Wage Bill. It is a bill which will imprison million of workers, their families and dependents in permanent destitution.
Poverty is a massive and growing problem, made even worse by the shocking level of unemployment, at over 36% by the more accurate expanded figure which includes those who have given up looking for work. As the recently retired Statistician-General, Pali Lehohla, said, unemployment is the driver of poverty.
Poverty is not however confined within the ranks of the unemployed. South Africa has 5.5 million of the working poor, based on a study in 2015 by UCT researchers who, based on detailed research, defined poverty as an income of less than R4, 125 a month.
They showed that about half of those employed in manufacturing and transport earn below this working-poor line. The industries with the lowest proportion of low-wage workers are mining and utilities, with 23% and 31%, respectively on under R4125 a month, and at the other extreme, a staggering 95% of those employed in domestic services and 90% of those in agriculture earning less than R4,125 per month.
That is why the proposed R3500 minimum wage is so shocking. It is R625 below the UCT researchers’ definition of poverty. It is an attempt to legitimise the poverty of the working poor and force millions to survive on a pittance. It will reinforce South Africa as a haven for cheap labour, just as it was under apartheid. It does not seek to dismantle the apartheid and colonial wage structure but legitimizes and maintains it.
Not all workers will be entitled to even that pitiful R20 an hour. The agreement at Nedlac includes many safeguards for the employers, including the relaxation of implementation dates in some sectors, and the exclusion of some sectors, including that:
• the minimum wage for farm workers will be R18 per hour;
• the minimum wage for domestic workers will be R15 per hour; and
• the minimum wage for workers on expanded public works programmes will be a pitiful R11 per hour for an eight-hour day, or R1 760 a month, assuming that they work the full month, nowhere even close to the low level that the government itself defines as an acceptable minimum wage.
R11 an hour should not even be called a ‘wage’; it is little more than a tip, even less than they might get begging on street corners! It is a form of virtual slavery.
The plight of these desperate young workers is a symptom of the massive crisis of runaway unemployment and the bloodbath of formal jobs, which has left millions in deep poverty, and thus even more vulnerable to unscrupulous employers who believe that any job is better than none and workers should be grateful to take whatever job they can get at any price.
Of course young people should be employed, but as proper employees with full rights, job security, thorough training and a decent wage.
The big danger is however that there will be even fewer such proper jobs left in the future, if the use of EPWP expands and more permanent jobs are casualised or given to labour brokers.
R3 500 a month equals poverty. It will also further increase inequality in this the most unequal country in the world. President Zuma will be earning 71 times more than the minimum level of R20 an hour on which the government claims people can survive.
Cabinet ministers who are backing the NMW have also received big increases, in many cases in addition to what they are allegedly making from their part in the looting of the state coffers through bribery, tender manipulation, and colluding with private business to rob the state of billions of rands.
Top executives in business, some of whom we now know are also involved with the looting of state sources, will be making still more. The wealthiest 10% of the population earn around 55%–60% of all income, and own at least 90–95% of all wealth. The poorest 50% of the population earn about 10% of all income, and own no measurable wealth at all!
SAFTU agree with NUMSA when they reminded Cyril Ramaphosa, the chief driver of the poverty minimum wage, that “our liberation did not come cheap. African people suffered terrible humiliation and oppression; others were killed for the freedoms that we now enjoy. The figure of R20 per hour is an insult to those who gave up everything for the struggle.”
The federation wishes to remind members of parliament, including the ‘radical economic transformers’ of the ANC, that the country’s wealth is created by the workers who they want to force to live on R3 500 a month.
At every stage in the process of production, distribution and exchange, value is added by workers who sell their labour, but receive only a faction of that value in wages; the surplus value is stolen by the employer as profit.
As well as being theft from the workers’ pockets, this proposed poverty wage will further worsen the crisis of the falling market for goods and services, which will lead to even more retrenchments. We shall see a descent in what Karl Marx described as crisis of over-production, when the working class cannot afford to buy the products they make and the services they provide.
The demand for living minimum wage, like the R12 500 demanded by AMCU and NUMSA, is not a plea for charity but for workers to get back a bigger share of the stolen wealth which their labour created.
This is why we need a socialist economy in which the wealth belongs to the people of South Africa and is used to build a country whose wealth is owned and controlled by the workers and the mass of the people and not a small parasitic elite.
As well as insisting that the new minimum wage must be a living wage it is also time to revive the campaign for a basic income grant, to ensure that no South African, with or without a job, is condemned to a lifetime of poverty.
If further proof were needed of why SAFTU came into existence, it is this betrayal by the ANC and its allies in COSATU, who have faced this poverty minimum wage. This has shown why we are building a new independent, militant and democratic workers’ federation, which will take to the streets to insist that all workers receive a basic living, minimum wage.