Johannesburg - Parties engaged in the national minimum wage talks say they are now closer to a deal than ever before, despite the numerous deadlocks which had characterised the process.
The government, labour, community and business constituencies at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) have decided to deploy a team of experts to determine the modalities of the system, including a feasible level.
National minimum wage talks that began at the end of 2014 have been marred by delays, with the social partners struggling to agree on a baseline income for workers.
Labour and community representatives had threatened to strike if there was no meaningful movement to the national minimum wage talks.
Labour federations Cosatu and Fedusa (Federation of Unions of SA) celebrated the decision to establish the panel, which will report back to Nedlac 70 days after its establishment.
This means a figure could be announced in three months if the panel’s recommendations are not contested.
The panel’s report will, however, not be binding, and will still be considered by principals once complete.
Nedlac has a number of researchers to choose from on the subject, as various universities and organisations have been busy exploring the possible workings of a model ideal for South Africa.
“All the social partners agreed on the need for a panel of experts to be established to review the research, assess the impact and advise on the most feasible level,” said Nedlac in a statement.
Cosatu spokesman Sizwe Pamla said this was the kind of progress they were hoping for.
“It managed to break the stalemate between us and big business. There were already issues that were touted, a lot of research has been done, and this panel is a good move.”
Meanwhile, Fedusa said it was critical to get a broad consensus on the national minimum wage as it was a sensitive process with serious repercussions.
The business community has warned that the introduction of such a wage system would put jobs at risk and worsen the country’s high level of unemployment.
This is despite existing research proving that there was no evidence to support the sentiment as no correlation between a national minimum wage and job losses could be found.
Fedusa general secretary, Dennis George said the decision to form the panel that would present such concrete data and how it applies to the South African context had brought parties closer to one another at Nedlac.
“The motivation is to see how to lift people out of poverty and how do we address inequality. We must also avoid making the level too high. If you make the wages too high, some people may dismiss their employees. It is not an easy thing, it is complex,” he said.
The amounts vary between R3 500 and R5 000.