Minister of Labour Mildred Oliphant. Picture: Bongani Shilubane/African News Agency (ANA)
JOHANNESBURG – Labour is warning of a jobs bloodbath this year, following implementation of the much-touted national minimum wage on January 1.

And industry stakeholders warn that this could affect the struggling South African economy battling a 27.5 percent unemployment rate.

There are 16.4million employed people and 6.2million unemployed people between the ages of 15 and 64 years in South Africa, according to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the third quarter of 2018.

Labour analyst Michael Bagraim said 2019 is set to be an eventful year, starting with the implementation of a national minimum wage signed into law by President Cyril Ramaphosa in November.

However, Bagraim revealed that Parliament would hold a meeting later this month aimed at amending the national minimum wage legislation.

“The terrible mistake is that the legislation says the national minimum wage is retrospective. It’s not,” he said.

“I pointed out this mistake to Parliament in the middle of December. They didn't understand, but now they have suddenly woken up.”

Bagraim said the negative news was that there would be mass retrenchments this year.

“It’s going to be bad. It’s going to be a bloodshed of the year. People must protect their jobs and not resign or cause trouble.”

He also criticised the government for creating an environment for small businesses to thrive.

SA Federation of Trade Unions spokesperson (Saftu) Patrick Craven said labour was looking forward to a very difficult year.

“The signs are there that more jobs will be lost, that unemployment will continue to rise and that we will remain the most unequal society in the world,” said Craven.

He lamented the fact that a huge number of people still lived in poverty. “We don't believe the government has any solutions to this crisis. Saftu is determined not to simply let this happen, but to launch a huge mass campaign of resistance to show that we need a completely new economic policy focused on job creation, developing the manufacturing industry in South Africa and the raising of living standards through the minimum living wage that people can live on.”

He said Saftu would embark on a huge stay-away in March to bring these issues to the fore.

Fedusa president Godfrey Selematsela said labour federations would have their Nedlac labour school from January 27 to January 30 to, among other things, plan how to monitor the implementation of the minimum wage, including the creation of jobs flowing from the Jobs Summit held late last year.

“It is important that we create a conducive working environment for job creation and ensure that we grow the economy,” he said.

Nactu general secretary Narius Moloto said labour ended 2018 on a very bad note as there were retrenchments across all sectors.

“We are expecting to see some resistance to the minimum wage implementation and the continued laying off of workers,” he said.

Moloto predicted that the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration would be inundated with disputes this year.

“We also expect very tough wage negotiations. The general earnings of workers have been declining. Workers are depressed generally. It’s going to be a tough year of wage negotiations.”

Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali said the federation hoped for the best in the New Year and stressed that workers would embark on a strike as a last resort.

He defended the downing of tools by workers, saying: “Sometimes strikes improve the lot of workers such as better salaries and working conditions.”

Last year, the Department of Labour said the country experienced its highest increase in labour strikes in 2017, with the figure increasing by 8percent from 122 in 2016 to 132 in 2017, while the number of working days lost rose 1.5percent to 960889 from 946323 in 2016.

The department's Industrial Action report stated that 125000 employees were involved in strikes across all industries and this cost the economy R251million in lost earnings in 2017 compared to R161m in 2015.

However, Bagraim said the economy could experience much less strikes this year because of new legislation.

“Now you have to have a secret ballot before embarking on a strike,” he said.

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