The recent announcement by the government that the national minimum wage should be set at R3,500 a month has not settled well with some employees, including their labour organisations.
The contentious issue of the national minimum wage has been a subject of debate for many years the government, employers and labour unions. Labour unions feel that R3,500 is just a drop in an ocean in light of the current socio-economic situation plaguing the country.
Majidu Masawu is a foreign national working in Port Elizabeth as a security guard. The 35-year-old Malawian national works from Monday to Saturday. For his effort he earns R3,200 a month. He doesn’t have lunch breaks.
He explained his situation: “I have three children with a South African wife. My wife is unemployed and all my children are going to local public primary schools. My salary is very little that when I heard about the new minimum wage I was a little bit excited. I am renting a shack for R350 in Missionville. Add electricity and food cost to that. I am just working for nothing. Our boss fetches us in the morning and refuses to transport us back home when we finish our shifts.”
The father of three said at times he and his co-workers are dropped for their daily duties in places as far as Sea View, or Colchester where they guard shops and residences. He said his boss leaves them there and they have to make their own transport arrangements back home.
“We are also not allowed to join unions or to ask questions about some unfair deductions from our salaries. The idea of a minimum wage is a good one but do you think the government is going to enforce it and how?” he asked.
Majidu revealed that at times they are exposed to bad weather elements because some of the sites they guard do not have shelter.
Another worker who feels the government should have at least increased the minimum wage to R5,000 a month is 31-year-old Nomsa Plaatjies. She works as a general labourer for a pest control and cleaning company. She said she has worked for the company for seven years.
The Port Elizabeth-based company supplies them with uniforms and the necessary protective clothing. But the single mother said her boss deducts that amount from her R2,200 monthly pay.
The KwaZakhele resident said, “I am struggling to meet my monthly expenses. Even with this new proposed salary it is too little because the cost of living just keeps going up. The minimum wage should at least be set at R5,000 to R7,000. I am just financially sinking into a bottomless pit. Our company supplies us with transport to work. They also take us home after work because at times we work early and finish late. They don’t allow us to claim overtime or to have a one-hour lunch break. The main problem is that from this meagre salary my manager deducts uniform and protective clothing money. He also docks money from our salaries if by mistake one of us breaks a client’s property like windows or damage the carpet. We are made to share this cost.”
Nomsa’s company has sixteen workers and they all live in KwaZakhele. Eleven are women with five being men.
Nomsa has one child who is in Grade 6 at a primary school in Shauderville, Port Elizabeth. She said she pays R450 every month for her transport to school. Because she cannot afford to stay on her own, Nomsa lives with her parents and siblings in their family home.
“I want to break free from my parents but I can’t because my salary is very little. We are six in our family and four have children who also live with us,” she said.
Nomsa sleeps with her two sisters in a shack at the back of the house while other members of the family live in the four-roomed main house.
SATAWU – the minimum wage is half of what we demand
The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union, SATAWU says the R3,500 minimum wage is just half of what they are demanding.
SATAWU Eastern Cape regional organiser, Zukile Vakaliso, explained, “Our position as SATAWU with regard to the minimum wage of cleaners and security guards is that it should be at least R5,000.This is because we are looking at the economy because each day the cost of living is increasing. Also put in mind that cleaners work with hazardous chemicals. Imagine if a cleaner got sick as a result of contamination from these chemicals – that employee has to go to a doctor and pay from their own money. They pay their transport, food and clothing. Most of them are single parents. This R3,500 is very little. It should be revised upwards.”
Vakaliso added, “There are many companies I can not mention for legal reasons who are exploiting our workers. We are always taking them to the CCMA for arbitration and to the Labour Department. Employers are hostile to us when we try to recruit or teach our members about their rights. We often receive threats from some of the managers. They intimidate us when we go to their workplaces. We need employers to come on board and know that they should pay their workers the agreed minimum wage and comply with the labour laws set by the government.”
Vakaliso continued, “Basically the government should increase the minimum wage to at least R5,000 a month. Employees should work an eight-hour shift. We need to establish a bargaining council in the province encompassing the two sectors, thus the security and the cleaning sectors. The bargaining council would therefore deal with the issues affecting employers and employees with us the union and the Department of Labour involved.
“We are fighting for the total emancipation of the workers. Our members should have medical aid allowances because they are exposed to occupational hazards. They should also get risk allowances because some of them, like security guards, are vulnerable to criminals while cleaners are exposed to the dangers of explosive and poisonous chemicals. We are also proposing that workers should have a housing allowance. Also the employers should transport their workers in safe transport, not open bakkies, while toilets and sheds should be provided to security guards.”