Minister of Labour Mildred Oliphant met represantatives of AMCU, NACTU, NUM and Cosatu to OR Tambo International Airport's Intercontinental Hotel to discuss restoring stability in the mining industry. 030613 Picture: Boxer Ngwenya

Parliament - There was an urgent need to decrease the wage gap between ordinary workers and executives, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant said on Tuesday.

Delivering her budget vote speech in Parliament, Oliphant ascribed the hostility in the labour market to a “dynamic labour environment”.

“The South African labour market institutional framework remains sound and for those who have short memories, the labour laws of this country are heralded as among the best in the world,” Oliphant told MPs.

“What we must all accept is that the labour market environment is dynamic and a highly contested policy terrain the world over. The adversarialism that creeps in from time to time must be understood from that broader context.”

The increasing wage gap was making the situation worse.

“Therefore the need to tackle the wage gap between top executives and ordinary workers has become urgent as failure to do so carries the biggest risk to the workings of our labour market institutional framework,” said Oliphant.

“Whilst the department of labour is about, first and foremost, the protection of workers in general and vulnerable workers in particular, it will be important to find the delicate balance between protection and not stifling development.”

Oliphant's comments come as a strike in the metals and engineering sector by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa enters its third week.

Earlier this year, a strike by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union lasted five months and crippled the platinum mining sector.