Johannesburg – Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa says the success in crafting the national minimum wage should be that inequality is reduced, people are lifted out of poverty and there is an impact on unemployment.

The Deputy President was speaking on Saturday during a two-day National Economic Development and Labour Council’s (Nedlac) workshop held to discuss wage inequality and labour instability.

In his opening address, Deputy President Ramaphosa noted that for the first time in South Africa

there was broad agreement on the need to introduce a national minimum wage.

Discussions on the issue have been taking place in the Minimum Wage Technical Task Team and, on the issue of labour stability, in the Labour Relations Technical Task Team.

The discussions are overseen by a committee of principals that brings together senior leaders from all social partners and is chaired by the Deputy President.

He said the workshop was an opportunity to find out about what has happened in other countries where a national minimum wage has been introduced. “We will be able to engage on the challenges they faced, the debates they had and the solutions they found.”

Experts from Latin American, Africa, Asia and Europe, among others, attended the workshop as well as officials from the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The Deputy President said already much progress has been made by the task teams that have been meeting at NEDLAC.

“There is in principle agreement that the national minimum wage shall be the legal floor for a defined period of time, guaranteed by law, below which no employee may be paid in South Africa.

“There is agreement that a national minimum wage will apply to all employees, both in the public and private sectors, unless provided for otherwise by an exclusion, phase-in or phase-out in an upfront agreement.”

He acknowledged that there is still a lot of detailed work to be done and that the task team is currently focused on finalising the definition of the national minimum wage.

“We will have to be very sensitive to the employment effects, in particular, of a national minimum wage. In this area, a careful consideration of the evidence that is being gathered through the various research initiatives will be extremely important,” he said.

The workshop follows a directive from President Jacob Zuma who, during the State of the Nation Address last year, announced that Deputy President Ramaphosa would convene a social partner dialogue, within the ambit of Nedlac, on wage inequality and labour relations.

As a result a Labour Relations Indaba was convened in November 2014, which brought together senior leaders from all the social partners taking up the challenge. 

The weekend workshop was aimed at investigating the possibility of a national minimum wage as one of the key mechanisms to reduce income inequality and deliberate on the state of labour relations environment, in particular low wages, wages inequalities and protracted strikes.

Meanwhile, the Deputy President said South Africa has a long tradition of collective bargaining, one that they do not want to undermine through the introduction of a national minimum wage.

“We also have a successful history of minimum wage regulation through sectoral determinations. We see no reason to abandon this wage regulating measure.” –