The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) is proposing the introduction of a national minimum wage and a radical overhaul of the collective bargaining system, according to a draft policy document to be discussed at its congress in September.
The call was influenced by concerns about a wage agreement in the clothing sector last year, where a Cosatu affiliate agreed new employees could be paid 30% less than the negotiated, minimum wage. It is also part of Cosatu’s campaign for "decent work", which has led to clashes with its ally, the African National Congress (ANC).
The national minimum wage - which last year would have been R4800-R6000 according to Cosatu’s calculations - would, coupled with collective bargaining "forge a new wage policy for SA", the document reads.
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"We are therefore at a strategic crossroads. Either we continue the current approach of trying to win wage battles purely at a sectoral level, with the danger of systematically being driven back, particularly in low wage areas of the economy - or we adopt a new approach, which builds on the strengths of a reconfigured centralised bargaining system and combines this with the exercise of state regulation through the implementation of a national minimum wage, and comprehensive social protection," it argued.
Minimum wages are established through collective bargaining councils or by the government through sectoral determinations.
South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry CE Neren Rau said the proposals did not adequately take into account the structural weaknesses partly responsible for the plight of SA’s workers - such as skills shortages, lack of economic momentum and labour militancy.
A national minimum wage was more "interventionist," which spelled rigidity, when what the country needed was more labour flexibility. Mr Rau warned of "unintended consequences", including a flight by employers to lower wage levels away from higher-salaried, older workers.
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