Confirmation of the new National Minimum Wage was announced on Tuesday 9th of February after the amendment in terms of Section 6 (5) of the National Minimum Wage Act, No 9 of 2018 was published the day prior. The National Minimum Wage was first introduced in November 2018 and was highly lauded as a positive step towards the protection of some of the lowest-paid earners of the labour force.  Talks regarding the setting of a general minimum wage began in 1999 and was aimed at reducing the financial inequality gap, reducing the enormous wage disparities experienced in South Africa at the time. In addition, systems were initiated which allowed for the reporting of those who were not complying to the rate of pay as set by the Minimum Wage Act and sanctions put in place for those who may be found guilty of non-compliance.

The National Minimum Wage of R20 per hour does not however apply to the farming, expanded public works programme and domestic employment sectors, whose minimum wage rate remained significantly lower, with Domestics (on average) paid R5 less per hour than those on minimum wage. An increase to the national minimum was implemented in 2020, when an increase of 0.76c was applied to the national minimum. Since the beginning of 2020, the country has seen an unprecedented increase of unemployment resulting from negative growth resulting from the national lockdown from 27th of March 2020 and the subsequent metered opening up of the country’s industry, resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. To date, the consequences of the pandemic continue to wreak havoc on employers and employees alike.

This year, the national minimum wage was increased by 93 with farmer workers entitled to now be paid in line with the minimum of R21.96 per hour, however leaving domestic workers lagging behind at R19.09 and R11.93 for workers from the expanded public works programme. The increase to the national minimum was said to have taken into considerations factors such as inflation, the cost of living and the GDP into the annual adjustment. While that may be the case, the CPI increases retrospectively, therefore having little relevance to costs as we go forward into 2021. Despite all efforts to keep retail prices unaffected during the national lockdown, food costs have soured exponentially during the year as the cost of transport and production has increased. The consumer, already afflicted by high inflation rates and increased unemployment, has staggered against the increasing tide of the poverty line and the inequality gap simply grows as those who are able to cope financially do their best to help those closest to them through these difficult times. 

Since 2019 / 2020 Covid-19 stuck, researcher Julie Smith, of the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity group (PMBEJD), has said that the high level levels of inflation are expected to continue into the rest of the 2021 and anticipated increases from Eskom, already struggling workers, on the minimum wage, will not be able to continue to put food on their tables, and afford the costs associated with having employment, such as travel.

“For a national minimum wage worker, and in fact most South Africans, every year they become poorer than they were the year before,” said Smith.