Labour minister Mildred Oliphant defended the government's plan to introduce a R20 per hour national minimum wage. Picture: GCIS

Johannesburg - South Africa’s labour minister on Tuesday defended the government's plan to introduce a R20 per hour national minimum wage, saying while it may not mean a lot for well paid employees, it would make a "huge difference" to the majority of the country's vulnerable workers.

Unions affiliated to the South African Federation of Trade Unions have rejected the proposed minimum wage as too low, but it has received the backing of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, a key ally of the ruling African National Congress.

On Tuesday, labour minister Mildred Oliphant said setting the inaugural level at R20 per hour had been informed by research and robust analysis of various scenarios and their possible ramifications.

"This level is informed by the real world considerations and not some idealistic desires," she said in a budget speech to parliament. 

"National minimum wage is by no means an end in itself, but a means to an end."

She said some of what she called propaganda against the minimum wage was "nothing but pure electioneering and attempts to score cheap political points" ahead of next year's national elections.

"It is also disturbing that those who are against the national minimum wage, have nothing to offer as alternatives, but want to keep the status quo," said Oliphant.

A number of progressive employers have already started adjusting their workers’ wages upwards in anticipation of the national minimum wage becoming a reality, the minister added.

African News Agency/ANA