National Minimum Wage Bill

@FirstTakeSA / Twitter

National Minimum Wage Bill: What are the arguments for and against it?

The bill was passed into law by a margin of one vote. There are reasons it’s so divisive…

National Minimum Wage Bill

@FirstTakeSA / Twitter

On Tuesday, a divided Parliament gave their approval to the new National Minimum Wage Bill by the slightest of margins.

BusinessTech report that the proposal was passed into law by the grace of one vote. As 202 members of the house approved of the bill, it just did the bare minimum of surpassing the magic 201 mark for it to become legislation.

What is the National Minimum Wage Bill?

The bill guarantees that workers in most industries across South Africa must be paid a minimum of R20 an hour for their services.

In farming and agriculture, this is set at R18. The domestic sector sees a fixed rate of R15 an hour as the lowest amount workers can be paid. Expanded public works programme workers will be guaranteed R11 per hour – 55% of the national rate.

What arguments are for a national minimum wage?

Supporters claim that this will improve the lives of the poor and their families. Having a minimum rate of what legally has to be paid is perceived as giving workers more job security. It’s seen as a step forward for employee rights in SA.

This has been the pet project of President Cyril Ramaphosa for a few years now. He was honest enough to admit that the minimum wage isn’t yet a living wage, but he believes the next step is to increase the minimum pay from R20:

“All social partners recognise that at its introduction, the national minimum wage will be less than what we consider to be a living wage. The social partners also agree that it must be our firm determination to move as quickly as possible to a living wage.”

Ramaphosa was speaking at a May Day rally four weeks ago. The National Minimum Wage Bill is seen as the first step on a longer journey to protecting the country’s most vulnerable workers.

What arguments are against a national minimum wage?

Those opposed to it have certainly made their voices heard…

Some South Africans have described the amount of R20 as a ‘slave labour’ price. Many employees could be limited to as little as R160 a day, and Cosatu – as well as other unions – see it as a legislation that will only enforce poverty in the country.

The Democratic Alliance have fiercely opposed the ANC’s proposals for minimum wage. They believe that setting in place one framework for the whole country is “Stalinist“, and argue that different industries and provinces should be able to negotiate their own pay rates.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) have also expressed their concerns. They say that a living wage is needed right now, rather than having to “make do” with a minimum one.

A living wage would be considerably higher than R20 an hour and provide the lower working class with a salary that can, in Numsa’s words, “sustain a family”.