The Congress of South African Trade Unions welcomes the decision of the Minister of Labour to adopt the recommendation of the Employment Conditions Commission (ECC) to increase the national minimum wage of farm workers from R69 to R105 per day, which means R11.66 per hour, R525 a week or R2274.82 a month.
This advance is a victory above all for the farm workers, whose militancy and determination brought their plight into the national spotlight and forced employers and government to act to improve their wages and conditions. They have proved once again that action on the streets is essential if workers and the poor are to achieve a better life.
While this significant increase, of around 50% does not meet the legitimate demand of farm workers for a minimum wage of R150 per day, it is a significant step forward in creating an improved minimum wage floor, above which unions and employers need to negotiate a more acceptable level. It is a ‘minimum’ and must not be seen by employers as a maximum
We urge the workers now to join the trade union movement so that this improvement can be consolidated and the fight for further improvements taken forward with the employers by a united, well-organised workforce.
R105 is still not a living wage that can feed a family. It is a figure suggested by researchers, jointly commissioned by the Department of Labour (DOL) and AgriSA in the Western Cape, who considered that R105 could be accommodated by the sector without substantial job losses, whereas if the wage went above R105 at this point, without other significant changes in the sector, there would be significant job losses.
We do not necessarily agree that the threat of job loss can be simplistically attached to a particular minimum wage level. The question of levels of employment (and employment growth) needs to be understood in the context of a range of factors affecting the agricultural sector, which has bled many thousands of jobs despite ultra-low wages.
To tackle this problem, Labour made a proposal, supported strongly by the majority of Commissioners and contained in the ECC report, that a process be established in Nedlac between government, labour and business to address a range of industry issues in the farming sector that are a barrier to improved performance of the sector and therefore to improved wages, such as tariffs, dumping of agricultural goods from other countries (e.g. the latest chicken scandal on which FAWU has issued a statement), lack of training, fair trade, etc
On the question of the duration of the Sectoral Determination, the Minister has agreed with the majority of the Commissioners (including business) on a three year determination – with an increase of the lowest quintile CPI plus 1.5% in 2014/15 and the same again in 2015/16. Labour recommended that the determination be one year only, and that all conditions be reviewed in a parallel process to the agreed NEDLAC process.
On a provident fund for farm workers, COSATU welcomes the talks which are to proceed between the DOL, farm worker unions and business in the sector to arrive at an agreed scheme, hopefully to be made compulsory and gazetted as such (in the same way that there is a compulsory scheme in the security sector).
On reduced hours of work, this is being reviewed across all sectors by the DOL, who are doing a study to investigate the impact of reducing the hours of work in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act from 45 to 40 hours. We support this and urge the DOL to expedite this matter.
On illegal deductions from wages, the DOL acknowledges that the main problem is that of law enforcement, and the Minister has made a welcome commitment to stepping up inspections to monitor compliance with the sectoral determination and stop illegal deductions. More resources and inspectors need to be dedicated to policing this highly vulnerable and inaccessible sector. Organised labour has agreed to play its part in reporting, and in organising collectively to conquer, all illegal practices.
The wages of forestry workers will also be automatically increased to 95% of the new R105 a day farm worker wage, and then equalised in 2014/15. This is because of an agreement reached in the ECC in 2012 that there should be no difference between the wages in the two sectors. A closing of the gap over two years was gazetted in the last forestry SD.
COSATU further urges that urgent steps are taken to raise the minimum wages of all other vulnerable workers who are covered by sectoral determinations, and that policy discussions be urgently initiated towards establishment of an economy-wide national minimum wage for South Africa.
COSATU agrees fully with a growing number of ECC Commissioners and officials in the DOL that trying to improve the real wages of low paid workers on a sectoral basis, without a clear overall government strategy to increase low pay across the board, will not move us forward in addressing the challenge of poverty wages.
The ECC has already had an input from COSATU Policy Advisor, Comrade Neil Coleman, on the successful Brazilian experience on minimum wage policy, and there is agreement to have a further workshop on the issue of wages and macro-economic strategy.
COSATU’s Collective Bargaining and Minimum Wage Conference on 12-15 March 2013 will take these discussions further and provide a clear mandate on wage policy in general to drive forward the campaign to put an end to poverty wages.