Cape Town - 180501 - COSATU members with posters outside Parliament during a May Day COSATU march to Metrorail and Parliament. Pictures: Brendan Magaar / African News Agency (ANA).
JOHANNESBURG - The most historic and progressive changes to South Africa’s labour legislation will be passed by the National Assembly on Tuesday this week.  These will be the most significant amendments to our labour laws since end of apartheid and the dawn of our new democracy in 1994.

Tuesday will see that National Assembly adopt the National Minimum Wage, the Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment and the Labour Relations Amendment Bills.

The National Minimum Wage Bill will for the first time in South Africa’s history see a national minimum wage that no worker must earn below.  

R20 an hour will see 6.4 million workers or 47% of our work force enjoying a raise in their hourly wages.  This should translate into an additional R5.5 billion in monthly wages for half our work force.  Whilst critics have attacked the minimum wage as too low, they have failed to recognise how it will help millions of our most vulnerable workers especially farm, domestic, petrol, cleaning, retail, hospitality, restaurant, hairdressing, transport, furniture and other impoverished workers.

Whilst farm and domestic workers will be pegged at 90% and 75% of the NMW respectively, they will be brought up to 100% of the NMW within 2 years.  This was necessary to avoid job losses in these highly fragile sectors.

This will put money in their pockets, food on their tables and a better life for their families.  More money will flow into the local economy, thus stimulating badly needed economic growth and job creation.  This is exactly what a minimum wage has done in the United States, Brazil and Germany.  It is what is needed in South Africa with a stubbornly high 36% unemployment level and 1% jobless economic growth.

Parliament will also be passing legislation that will significantly expand access to the Unemployment Insurance Fund by increasing unemployment benefits from 8 months to 12 months, providing maternity leave for mothers who experienced the trauma of still born births and third trimester miscarriages, increasing maternity leave payments from 54% to 66% of mother’s salaries, increasing access to a deceased UIF beneficiary’s remaining payments to their beneficiaries, separating maternity leave credits from unemployment insurance and thus protecting mother’s unemployment cover and extending UIF coverage to public servants.

In response to a long standing COSATU demand Parliament will be passing legislation providing for 10 days paid parental leave for fathers and other non-birth giving parents (e.g. same sex partners or mothers of surrogate children) when their child is born.  Parents legally adopting children 2 years and younger will be entitled to 10 weeks adoption leave (1 parent will receive 10 weeks adoption leave and the other will be entitled to 10 days parental leave).

The Labour Relations Amendment Bill has been the subject of much media hype and hysteria.  Sadly most of it political posturing and deliberate disinformation.  Whilst its critics have said it will collapse the right to strike, nothing could be further from the truth.  Balloting before strikes and lock outs have been requirements of the LRA since it was adopted in 1995.  The sole change here is the clarification of the secret or confidential nature of a ballot.  This is in line with South African voting traditions.  In fact it reinforces worker control of unions.  

The LRA will strengthen collective bargaining by allowing the Minister of Labour to extend collective agreements where parties may not be 51% of their workforce or sector but are sufficiently representative.  This will see millions of outsourced, sub-contracted or labour broker employed workers enjoying the benefits and cover of agreements won by trade unions. 

A code of good practise picketing rules will be set to protect the rights of workers picketing or demonstrating.  The CCMA will be empowered to assist with the resolution of strikes when negotiations have collapsed.  This will assist workers facing intransigent employer who refuse to talk.

Credit must be given to COSATU which has campaigned tirelessly to achieve a national minimum wage since it was formed in 1985.  COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU have shown the strength of workers when united.  A minimum wage has been a struggle of South African workers for decades and is one of the key demands of the Freedom Charter.  President Ramaphosa must be applauded for his tireless efforts to see these negotiations through and a minimum wage realised.

These laws have been painstakingly negotiated over the last three years at Nedlac and Parliament between government, business, labour and civil society organisations.  They offer renewed hope to exploited and impoverished workers.  They may spur economic growth and greater labour market stability.  They have not come at the cost of workers’ hard won constitutional rights to strike.  They show the value of social dialogue.  This is what is needed to turn the new dawn into a living reality for not just the 6.4 million worker and their 21 million dependents but in fact the entire nation.

Matthew Parks is the COSATU Parliamentary Coordinator.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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