Most workers in South Africa will get no less than R20 an hour from the start of next year, although some state workers may still get as little as R11.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said in Kliptown, Soweto, today that the national minimum wage will have to be paid to workers from the start of January.
Under the new law, employers will have to pay their staff a minimum wage of R20 an hour with the exception of sectors such as the farm/forestry, domestic and expanded public works programme workers, that have been given a longer transition period to pay R18, R15 and R11 per hour respectively.
“No worker may be paid below the national minimum wage,” he said, which he added would help to deal with some of South Africa’s challenges and create a social part of social contract for the future of work.
Consensus on the minimum wage was reached by stakeholders under the auspices of the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) and has been set at R20 an hour.
The presidency said Ramaphosa had elected to conduct the proclamation in a ceremonial setting in order to affirm the centrality of collaboration and consensus among social partners to the resolution of challenges facing the country.
“Kliptown has been selected for this engagement for its place in South Africa’s liberation history as the site of the adoption of the Freedom Charter, which six decades ago called for a minimum wage as part of protection for vulnerable workers,” it said.
The national minimum wage represented a marked increase in income for more than 6 million workers – or 47% of South Africa’s labour force – and was subject to future adjustments in terms of the National Minimum Wage Act, it added.
Ramaphosa signed the law two weeks ago alongside the Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Bill and Labour Relations Amendment Bill which were negotiated by Nedlac at the same time.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), however, earlier rejected the signing into law of the National Minimum Wage Bill.
“The minimum wage bill will legalise the poverty wage of R20 per hour. This is an insult to the working class who fought and died to defeat the apartheid government,” said Numsa national spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola.
The “poverty national minimum wage” would worsen the living conditions of workers. The amount was negotiated to “favour capital in order to give them flexibility and limit the hours which workers can work”, Hlubi-Majola said.
Labour federation Cosatu president Zingiswa Losi was more upbeat about the announcement on Friday.
She said, also speaking in Kliptown, the minimum wage and labour acts were historic achievements for workers.
“They are as a result of decades of struggle by workers,” she said.
The wages of 6.4 million workers in different sectors, including cleaning, security, domestic, farm, clothing , retail, hospital, security, petrol, furniture, hairdressers “and many other impoverished workers”, would increase, Losi said.
“This is equal to 47% of workers. In simple terms, half the nation will benefit from this national minimum wage directly,” she added.
The national minimum wage would also be “a massive economic stimulus” for the country’s economy, she said.
“We want to say that the Labour Act would see maternity leave benefits increase to cover 66% of workers’ salaries and to cover stillborn births and third trimester miscarriages.”
The act, she further explained, would also benefit fathers, same-sex, and surrogate mothers by allowing them 10 days paid paternity leave and maternal parental leave.
“They will see parents legally adopting children two years and younger entitled to 10 weeks paid adoption leave,” she said.
Maternity, parental and adoption leave credits would be separated from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) credits “in response to a long-standing demand of Cosatu and workers to avoid penalising women for giving birth”.
“The acts will see the UIF payments to workers who have lost their jobs increase from eight to 12 months payments. Workers who pass away will see their remaining due UIF, maternity and parental leave benefits paid to their beneficiaries,” Losi said.
She said the “progressive” acts meant more money for workers which came at a critical time, with VAT, tax fuel and other tariff and price increases burdening wage earners, while unemployment and retrenchments were on the rise.
Losi urged employers to comply with the national minimum wage and the labour acts and that government should act “without fear or favour” against those who failed to do so.
“Lastly, we want to say we must now intensify the campaign for a living wage and social wage, for the implementation of the jobs and investment summits commitments; [to] fight against retrenchments and corruption, for the achievement of the national health insurance and comprehensive social security, and for safe and reliable public transport, among other issues.”