Unions and civil society march against minimum wage and labour law amendments

Unions want the labour bills to be scrapped. Photo by Mzi Velapi

Trade unions and community activists came out against the implementation of the minimum wage and the proposed labour law amendments.

Keizersgracht Street, Zonnebloem, Cape Town, South Africa

About 500 workers from trade unions affiliated to the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) and from civil society in Cape Town marched to Parliament against what they described as an “assault on the poor by the government”. The target of their protest is government’s plan to introduce a national minimum wage together with new labour law amendments. The national minimum wage is set to be R20 per hour which would translate into R3,500 a month for those working a 40-hour week.

Minimum Wage

Omar Parker, the provincial coordinator of the National Union of Public Service & Allied Workers Union (NUPSAW) said that the introduction of the minimum wage proves that the interest of the workers and those in power are not the same. “The working class interests are diametrically opposed to those of the bosses,” he said.

NUPSAW is one the unions that organises care-workers. “We have engaged with the government around the recognition of care-workers by the Department of Health and the issue of their wages. Last year they said they do not have a budget to employ them directly but they have come back to us and said they are prepared to pay them R20 per hour and we have rejected this,” said Parker.

According to Parker, a care-worker’s day is between 4 to 6 hours, meaning that if they are to earn the minimum wage, their take-home pay would be far from a living wage. “They want them to accept slave wages,” shouted Parker.

A wage of R3,500 is according to the South African Correctional Service Workers Unions’ provincial chairperson, Monki Sepula already an entry level salary for correctional officers. “We are here because our members are affected by the minimum wage,” said Sepula.

Addressing the workers outside Parliament, SAFTU general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi said that the parliamentarians are happy to impose the R20 per hour minimum wage while they could not themselves survive on that. “The R20 won’t be able to pay for their dogs’ food. They don’t even give R20 to their kids as pocket money to school,” said Vavi.

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“If thats fine for the workers, then they must earn that for a month and see how that goes for them,” he said.

According to SAFTU’s statement, the average pay of executives in the country’s top 100 companies is now at R17,97-million a year. This is based on a study done by Deloitte Accountants. “Based on that report they earn R69,000 a day and R8,652 an hour. The president on the other hand, is reported to be earning R3,6 million a year which translates to R10,000 a day and R1,250 an hour,” said Vavi.

FAWU national president Atwell Nazo (green T-shirt) and Zwelinzima Vavi. Photo by Mzi Velapi

According to the minimum wage bill, farmworkers will earn R18 per hour whilst domestic workers will earn R15 per hour.  Workers employed in the expanded public work programme (EPWP) will earn R11 per hour.

New labour law amendments

The new labour law amendments are according to SAFTU “the most savage attack on the constitutional right of workers to strike.” One of the changes is that when workers want to go on strike they have to hold elections where every worker will in a secret ballot vote for or against the strike. “Unions have no capacity to hold elections when they want to go on strike. Can you imagine if NUMSA wants to strike. That would mean more than 400,000 members in every factory or garage have to vote and unions have to administer all of that,” said Vavi.

The secret ballot vote to strike was severely criticised by union leaders. Michael Helu, the organiser for the General Industrial Workers Union of South Africa (GIWUSA) said that the attack on workers’ right to strike will soon extend to new limits on community protests.

“To make sure that workers tone down their demands, they want to introduce long conciliation periods before they go on strike,” argued Vavi.

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The new labour law amendments will give more power to the employers as “they will have a right to approach the CCMA and the courts to force compulsory arbitration if they view the strike is lasting too long and is having a big impact on the economy and the company concerned,” reads the SAFTU statement.

Vavi pleaded with Members of Parliament that come from trade unions and the South African Communist Party to vote against the labour law amendments. “We call on Gwede Mantashe whom we groomed, to vote against the amendments. We plead with him to mantash around the labour law amendments,” said Vavi. Gwede Mantashe is the former general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers. The term mantash was coined after he abruptly changed his mind regarding a cabinet reshuffle by then President Zuma.

“We call on you Ebrahim Patel, Senzeni Zokwana even though there are rumours that you were bribed, Thulas Nxesi we call on you even though you divided SADTU and you referred to a swimming pool as a firepool,” shouted Vavi to the amusement of the strikers.

While Vavi was speaking to the workers, a contingent from the Congress of South African Trade Unions waited for the march to disperse before starting a picket. One of the COSATU leaders, Tony Ehrenreich was called on stage by SAFTU leaders and came to hug Vavi. Vavi joked that Tony cannot belong to COSATU because it is a federation that is afraid of the truth. “This is our man, he belongs with us. He belongs to those who tell the truth,” said Vavi.

According to SAFTU provincial secretary, Andre Adams, the strike was a curtain-raiser to a national strike on the 25th of April.

COSATU provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich sharing the stage with SAFTU general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi at the SAFTU march. Photo by Mzi Velapi

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