A Cosatu affiliate with a R200 note with the words “National Mini-mum Wage” on it walks past the Iziko Slave Musuem during the trade union federation’s march for higher minimum wage.

JOHANNESBURG - South Africa’s union rivalry came to the fore again this week when the country’s labour unions reacted differently to the R20 an hour national minimum wage approved by cabinet.

The country’s largest labour federation, Cosatu, welcomed the policy, which will be implemented in May, but quickly warned it would become redundant if the government failed to implement its requirements. 

“What we want to see now is some leadership from the government’s side to make sure that the labour department is prepared for the rollout of the minimum wage,” spokesman Sizwe Pamla said. “While we have about 15million workers in the country, the department has 1000 labour inspectors. We need more labour inspectors.”

However, the rival SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), rejected it, charging that it sought to formalise poverty wages. Saftu, which is led by expelled Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, said the minimum wage was bad for the country. Acting spokesperson Patrick Craven said the proposed hourly rate was “outrageous”.

“The leaders who are presiding over the economic mess the country is now situated in are going to get huge increases on their already substantial salaries, while workers are living in poverty,” Craven said. But Cosatu hit back, saying that the minimum wage was different from the living wage.

“In fact, this whole thing risks becoming another redundant policy if government doesn’t address the labour department issue,” Pamla said. Cabinet this week approved the National Minimum Wage Bill following recommendations from the National Economic Development and Labour Council that workers be paid R3500 per month for a 40-hour week and R3900 for 45 hours. The bill will now be referred to Parliament for further deliberation.

If passed, it would be implemented in May.

Fedusa general secretary Dennis George said the federation welcomed the the bill, adding: “That’s exactly what we have agreed on at the Nedlac (National Economic Development and Labour Council).

“This will help us reduce inequality and poverty. Income is very important for the working people. “This will help stimulate the economy because more consumers will be able to spend more money on the economy.”