NUMSA NEC, National Minimum Wage, Speakers Notes for Public Hearings, February 2015
Our starting point in this presentation is the Freedom Charter. This is a document which the ANC / SACP government claims as its own. But it is a document which the very same government ignores in favour of its neo-liberal National Development Plan.
We want to remind you what it says about work:
"There Shall be Work and Security!
All who work shall be free to form trade unions, to elect their officers and to make wage agreements with their employers;
The state shall recognise the right and duty of all to work, and to draw full unemployment benefits;
Men and women of all races shall receive equal pay for equal work;
There shall be a forty-hour working week, a national minimum wage, paid annual leave, and sick leave for all workers, and maternity leave on full pay for all working mothers;
Miners, domestic workers, farm workers and civil servants shall have the same rights as all others who work;
Child labour, compound labour, the tot system and contract labour shall be abolished."
Let's look at each of these commitments, one by one:
There Shall be Work and Security!
After more than 20 years of democracy, we are further away from any guarantee of work and security to all citizens. This is especially true of the majority of the working class who are Black and African:
Unemployment stands at 35% - there are more people unemployed now than there were in 1994. The situation is getting worse. For example:
In May 2008 there were 5.1 million unemployed people in South Africa.
In May 2013 there were 7 million unemployed people.
The number of unemployed people went up by nearly 2 million
The Gini coefficient, the key measure of inequality, is amongst the highest in the world
Over 20% of the South African population are living below the food poverty line (which is around R300 monthly) in a state of absolute poverty
We need the work and security which the Freedom Charter promises.
All who work shall be free to form trade unions, to elect their officers and to make wage agreements with their employers;
Our trade union rights are under attack:
We are threatened with restrictions on one of our most fundamental rights - the right to strike. There are moves to restrict our right to call strikes and also to limit our right to continue them.
Attempts to essentialise parts of the public sector workforce are well underway! (This is happening, for example, in education and at Eskom). This would take away from those workers the most important rights of trade union membership - the ability to negotiate wages, supported by the only power workers have: the right to withdraw their labour.
As far as unionization and collective bargaining are concerned, these are the facts:
71% of employed workers are not unionised
54% of workers either receive no regular wage increments or they have their wages determined solely by their employers
Only 23% of the workers' wages are negotiated directly through unions.
In short, the rights we claim from the Freedom Charter are under attack by the very ANC government who wish to reclaim the Charter and workers are abused.
The state shall recognise the right and duty of all to work, and to draw full unemployment benefits
Millions of South African workers have no jobs. As we have already shown, the number is increasing. A very high proportion of the unemployed are black young people. They receive no unemployment benefit.
Men and women of all races shall receive equal pay for equal work
The average wage of an African man today is R2,400, while that of a white man is R19,200 per month.
The African female worker earns, on average R900 per month while the white female worker earns an average of R9, 000.
Where is the equality which the Freedom Charter demands?
There shall be a forty-hour working week, a national minimum wage, paid annual leave, and sick leave for all workers, and maternity leave on full pay for all working mothers
Even after 20 years of "freedom" millions of workers do not work a forty-hour working week, do not enjoy paid annual leave, and sick leave. Millions of female workers, especially African female workers, still do not enjoy maternity leave on full pay:
24% of workers work for more than 48 hours a week. Average working time is 44 hours a week
Only 32% of all those who work have medical aid benefits
43% of workers have no paid maternity/paternity leave
31% have no paid sick leave
50% have no pension or retirement fund
33% have no paid annual leave.
Those are the realities. A very long way from the commitments of the Freedom Charter!
It is in this clause of the Freedom Charter that we find the commitment to a national minimum wage! For us, it is not negotiable. It is there in the Freedom Charter because it is a fundamental requirement for millions of South African workers. Full freedom and liberation must include a National minimum Wage. For Numsa a National Minimum Wage must necessarily constitute a living wage given the triple crises of unemployment, poverty and inequality.
Miners, domestic workers, farm workers and civil servants shall have the same rights as all others who work; child labour, compound labour, the tot system and contract labour shall be abolished
Far from the contract labour system being abolished, it has dramatically increased:
35% (4.7 million workers) are engaged in contract and other short-term types of employment
20% of workers are on verbal contracts
In this presentation we will explain the importance of the National Minimum Wage as part of an overall strategy to fundamentally restructure the South African economy.
South African racist and colonial capitalism then and now does not guarantee work and security to all its citizens, especially the majority of the working class who are Black and African.
In 2013, half of working South Africans received a monthly salary of less than R3,033. That means 7 million working South Africans received a salary that is insufficient to provide basic necessities
The national average salary of all employees, the high paid as well as the low paid, is R15,000 a month.
So half of all workers earn far less than the national average. That is the apartheid wage structure - the huge number of South African workers who earn very little, and the small number who earn a huge amount.
In 2010 the median earnings of an African worker were R2 167. For white workers they were R9 500
In the manufacturing sector, the average income of an African worker is R5,454 (including bonuses and overtime). The white worker gets R21,817 - four times as much.
Our demand for a National Minimum Wage is an essential element in our struggle:
Our struggle is to abolish the super exploitative wage which was, and still is, the fate of the majority of South African workers who are Black and African
Our struggle is to secure work and income security for millions of Black and African workers who were denied this in our terrible past
Our struggle is to fight poverty largely afflicting Black and African workers
Our struggle is to win income equality in a free and democratic South Africa,
Our struggle is to secure collective bargaining rights for all South African workers
Our struggle is for workers to earn a living wage and for the unemployed to receiving living allowance
Our struggle is to end child labour, compound labour, the tot system and contract labour.
So the demand for a National Minimum Wage is at the same time a demand to abolish South African racist and apartheid colonial capitalism that traps millions of Black and African South Africans in poverty and unemployment and guarantees that they remain victims of extreme inequalities.
The National Minimum Wage cannot be seen in isolation from the rest of the economy. The South African economy cannot thrive in its current form which it has remained fundamentally unchanged from the apartheid colonial era. We cannot continue to base our economy on the extraction and export of raw minerals.
South Africa needs to formulate, adopt and implement a national wage policy. This policy must be based on:
Abolishing the apartheid wage gap
Abolishing all conditions which impede the development of trade unions and the rights of all workers to organize in trade unions, to bargain for wages and conditions of employment and to strike
In its turn, this wage policy must be part of a new post-apartheid, non-capitalist growth path and industrial strategy for full employment. This industrial strategy must focus on job creation in sectors with higher wages, and growth in sectors that can contribute to increased domestic demand and benefit from it.
Restructuring of the economy must include:
More government investment
Lower interest rates
Preferential financing for chosen industries who applies the National Minimum Wage
Limiting financial market speculation
Stopping companies from illegally exporting profit, estimated currently at between 10% and 20% of GDP
Radical wealth redistribution
Finally, this strategy must be rooted in an egalitarian society in which it is the needs of the majority of South Africans, not the profit of the few, which determine economic and social policies.
To us, this is the essence and meaning of the demand for a National Minimum Wage: abolishing the colonial status, both in the economy and society, of the Black and African working class.
If a National Minimum Wage is going to achieve its objective of lifting large numbers of South Africans out of poverty, it cannot stand on its own. It must be linked to other measures to deal with inequality, poverty and unemployment. It must be part of a comprehensive social security system, including:
A grant for the unemployed or a living allowance for the unemployed in the form of grocery vouchers and or travel coupons
Improved and compulsory retirement contribution by the employers
Improved UIF contribution by the employers
Improved quality service delivery by the state in the areas of transport, housing, education & health
There are those who argue that we already have a minimum wage in South Africa through the Bargaining Council system. To those people we say this:
Bargaining councils cover just 9% of the workforce
Minimum salaries differ greatly depending on the sector. While mining, manufacturing, and public sector employees are earning on average above R4,000, other sectors have a minimum wage less than R3,000 per month
Many employers still impose wages outside of any collective bargaining process.
Sectoral minimum wages are widely violated and extremely low; in reality workers are paid on average 35% less than the legislated sectoral minimum wage;
Over the last 20 years, workers' share of GDP has gone down, whilst the owners of capital have become richer.
These are the figures for existing minimum wages in some of the lowest paid sectors. Nobody could argue that they represent acceptable levels of income for workers with families.
Electrical contracting (Numsa)
Civil Engineering (Numsa)
General MIBCO (Numsa)
Wholesale & Retail Shop
Capital tells a story about the National Minimum Wage. It says that it will destroy jobs. It claims that it is very simple - the higher the wages, the less the number of people that employers can afford to employ. Whilst this sounds logical, it is in fact nonsense.
In Brazil, between 2003 and 2010 the National Minimum Wage was increased by 81%. During that time 17 million formal sector jobs were created.
In Uruguay, between 2003 and 2014, there was a reduction in unemployment at the same time that minimum wages were radically increased.
In South Africa, a study by the Development Policy Research Unit at UCT found that Sectoral Determinations which increased minimum wages led to an increase in employment, not a decrease
In 2009 in the UK, the Low Pay Commission (including employers and workers) reported on a 10 year study. It found that the National Minimum Wage did not have any significant negative effect on employment. Among policy experts, it was named as "the most successful government policy of the last 30 years".
Also in 2009, a study of 64 minimum-wage studies around the world showed there were no bad effects from national minimum wages.
A National Minimum Wage causes the economy to grow, which increases the number of jobs.
We must avoid the danger of a minimum wage becoming also the maximum wage. The struggle for a national minimum wage and the struggle for a living wage through improved collective bargaining arrangements are complementary struggles.
Collective Bargaining will and must continue to improve the minimum wage in all sectors
The legislation must be comprehensive:
We must include clear methods of enforcement and ensure no exemptions
We must ensure there are no job losses
We must adjust upwards existing sectoral determinations; there can be no downward variation
1. We demand this National Minimum Wage now. Twenty years after assuming office, the ANC / SACP government cannot give themselves another five years simply to investigate the modalities of a national minimum wage. Consistent with the demands and provisions of the Freedom Charter, the ANC and its government must simply announce when it will declare a national minimum wage.
2. Such a National Minimum Wage must be dynamic. It cannot be some arbitrary figure which then remains the same. It must take into account all the necessary variables (including inflation and the cost of living) to determining a dynamic and mobile National Minimum Wage capable of achieving the demands as captured in the Freedom Charter.
3. To achieve this, at the same time, there must be a National Wage Policy to abolish the apartheid wage gap, combat income inequalities, remove impediments to collective bargaining and all trade union rights.
4. The ANC / SACP government must abolish, now, labour brokering, child labour and compound labour and all such abusive, super exploitative labour practices.
5. The ANC / SACP government must put measures in place to guarantee a 40 hour working week and to ensure compliance.
6. The ANC / SACP government must put measures in place to ensure that men and women of all races earn equal pay for work of equal value.
7. The ANC / SACP government must stop and withdraw from all its current efforts to water down trade union rights, to essentialise certain sections of the working class. It must abolish such measures wherever they have been implemented.
8. The ANC government must guarantee paid annual leave and sick leave for all workers, and maternity leave on full pay for all working mothers.
Clearly, none of these measures can be achieved without simultaneously destroying the current South African economic foundation, dominated by imperialism and run by white men and their parasitic black allies.
We therefore demand the radical destruction of our current growth path, and its replacement by a socialist and democratically owned, controlled and managed economy as the only real guarantors to end the mass poverty, unemployment and extreme inequality in South Africa.
None of these demands is new - they are consistent with the demands of the struggles for freedom and liberation for which many South Africans of all races paid the ultimate price - their lives. These demands resonate with the aspirations of the Freedom Charter.
Nor, for that matter, is our demand for socialism strange, illogical or avoidable: socialism is the only way out of the historic and current South African human and environmental crisis. It is the only civilized way out. Anything else will simply deepen and prolong the pain, and inevitably make larger and more destructive, the implosion to come.
History teaches the working class one fundamental lesson: that they shall always be victims of the ruling classes unless they learn to see the class interests behind all phrases, proclamations and political processes. This includes these public hearings on the National Minimum Wage.
In our demands, we have sought to unearth the true class intentions and origins of the public hearings on the National Minimum Wage. It is time to unite all the working class behind the demand for a National Minimum Wage and also behind all the demands of the Freedom Charter, for they are all inseparable.
We are participating in these hearings so that the voice of the working class is heard. But we see this process as yet another effort to lure the working class to sleep as the 2016 local government elections approach. The real struggle for the national minimum wage will not be won in public hearings. It will be won by the working class in action, on the streets, united in its demands.
Therefore this articulation and submission represents the perspective of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) as endorsed and adopted by the NUMSA National Executive Committee (NEC).
Newtown, Johannesburg, South Africa
Issued by NUMSA, February 3 2015
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