South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses a May Day rally in Port Elizabeth. Picture: Raahil Sain / ANA

Port Elizabeth - African National Congress President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday called for equal pay for men and women in South Africa.  

Ramaphosa was speaking at a Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) May Day Rally held at a packed Isaac Wolfson Stadium in Port Elizabeth where he was warmly received by the crowds. 

"We still find in our country those who pay men more than women for doing exactly the same type of job. We want discrimination of salaries to come to an end so that men and women are doing the same job, must be paid equally. This is a struggle that you as trade unions must continue to wage. This is a struggle that you must get involved in," he said.

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Ramaphosa called on workers in the country to unite under the banner of one federation and said the right to strike should be protected.   

"As the ANC we long and look forward to the day when the workers in our country will be united under one federation, so that we can have one country and one federation. So that we can have workers talking with one voice. So that we do not have a situation where workers talk against each other and march against each other. We want to see workers advancing forward in unison," Ramaphosa.  

He said that while workers' rights to protest should be protected, engaging in industrial action should be done in a disciplined manner.  

"We have found that some of the workers have been preventing the other workers from doing very important work such as helping women to give birth, such as looking after newborn babies, pushing workers out of the way and saying you must not do this work because we are on strike."  

Ramaphosa called for humanity in strikes: "Let us have that humanity, there are certain services that are important. In the past children have died as a result of workers not executing some of our duties. We are saying let us have that basic humanity and make sure that the vulnerable in our society, those who are about to give birth must be assisted." 

On the the national minimum wage of R20 per hour or R3500 per month, due to be implemented in the coming months, Ramaphosa explained this was a "victory" for the 6.6 million South African's earning less than R3 000 per month.

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Conceding that R20 per hour was not a living wage, Ramaphosa said government first had to establish a firm foundation before continuing the fight for higher wages. 

"Others would have preferred to have a national minimum wage of R12 000 or R15 000 and that I can promise you, half the people in South Africa would have lost their jobs. Eight million people would have been out of work. Is that what we wanted? We said no. We want to incrementally increase our minimum wage so that our people are kept in employment, at the same time we want to build new jobs."

Ramaphosa said that the struggle for a living wage was ongoing and congratulated Cosatu for charging with the cause and improving the lives of over 6 million workers. 

Ramaphosa's comments came as the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), Cosatu's rival and a fierce critic of Ramaphosa, held its own May Day march and rally at the Lillian Ngoyi Hall just a few kilometers away. 

In recent weeks Saftu embarked on a countrywide strike against the minimum wage and new labour laws which would limit workers' right to strike.

African News Agency/ANA