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CityPress - - Busi­ness - HLENGIWE NHLA­BATHI hlengiwe.nhla­bathi@city­press.co.za

Labour Min­is­ter Mil­dred Oliphant is wor­ried about the num­ber of re­trench­ments that might fol­low af­ter the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the na­tional min­i­mum wage, which labour fed­er­a­tion Cosatu is seek­ing to im­ple­ment as early as Jan­uary. This comes in the same week Oliphant pre­sented her re­port to an ANC meet­ing at Luthuli House to seek guid­ance on the mat­ter from, among oth­ers, Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma.

Oliphant said that what was left now was sim­ply to agree on what the fig­ure should be. Trade unions want an im­me­di­ate agree­ment and im­ple­men­ta­tion of a min­i­mum wage, but busi­ness has been ac­cused of stalling and not at­tend­ing meet­ings to fi­nalise talks with all stake­hold­ers.

Oliphant told City Press that em­ploy­ers al­ready had a neg­a­tive at­ti­tude to­wards gov­ern­ment’s plan for a min­i­mum wage, a sit­u­a­tion that ne­ces­si­tated trade unions to be hon­est when con­sid­er­ing how much the na­tional min­i­mum wage should be.

“I’m very con­cerned that in­fla­tion could shoot up and un­em­ploy­ment and re­trench­ments could go sky-high.

“What’s hap­pen­ing is that it’s not just the [amount of] R4 500 called for by Cosatu; oth­ers are say­ing it should be R12 500. Ini­tially, there were those say­ing it should be R7 000, but they dropped that fig­ure,” she said.

“So [the unions] must be hon­est when they look at these fig­ures be­cause we should not cre­ate a sit­u­a­tion where work­ers will be re­trenched be­cause of the at­ti­tude of em­ploy­ers in this coun­try.”

Oliphant said em­ploy­ers could agree on a fig­ure, but were likely to do an about-turn and come up with a pack­age to re­trench work­ers by say­ing they could not af­ford to pay them the agreed amount.

She said that at the same time as ne­go­ti­a­tions on the na­tional min­i­mum wage con­tin­ued, gov­ern­ment was mind­ful of a pos­si­ble re­ces­sion.

Cur­rently, there is no agree­ment about the fig­ure, with Cosatu cry­ing foul about busi­ness frus­trat­ing the process and lead­ing to un­nec­es­sary de­lays. Oliphant said she was wait­ing for re­search re­ports, which would also look into whether work­ers in “ul­tralow-wage sec­tors” such as farm­ing and do­mes­tic work could be ex­cluded, as hap­pens in other coun­tries. At its na­tional con­gress this week, Cosatu de­cided to min­imise the ex­clu­sions and ex­emp­tions from the na­tional min­i­mum wage. It was agreed that, as a com­pro­mise, do­mes­tic work­ers, farm work­ers and even those em­ployed in pub­lic works projects, should start off with slightly lower wages of about 80% of the gen­eral min­i­mum wage.

But the stale­mate at Ned­lac, the con­sen­sus-seek­ing body be­tween gov­ern­ment, labour, busi­ness and civil so­ci­ety, has irked Cosatu so much that it wants the ANC to take a stronger stance on what it calls “de­lay­ing tac­tics and foot-drag­ging” by busi­ness.

Cosatu’s dec­la­ra­tion reads: “The na­tional min­i­mum wage is a mat­ter of life and death for work­ers. The con­duct of re­fus­ing to dis­cuss the level of the na­tional min­i­mum wage is en­tirely un­ac­cept­able and will be strongly op­posed.

“If the dead­lock is not sat­is­fac­to­rily re­solved by De­cem­ber 4, we will en­gage in mass mo­bil­i­sa­tion to en­sure that what has not been agreed in board­rooms will be re­solved in the streets and work­places.”

Cosatu has also threat­ened to ini­ti­ate a cam­paign to boy­cott em­ploy­ers who refuse to com­ply with the set fig­ure.

It sup­ports an in­ter­na­tional bench­mark for set­ting the na­tional min­i­mum wage at 40% or 50% of the av­er­age wage. The av­er­age wage of work­ers in the for­mal sec­tor in South Africa is said to be about R10 000.

Oliphant said she ex­pected one of three re­search re­ports on the mat­ter to be on her desk by the end of this month.

“We are wait­ing for the fi­nal re­search re­port, one we are told we will get by the end of Novem­ber. We have about three.”

She pre­sented a progress re­port to ANC of­fi­cials at a na­tional work­ing com­mit­tee meet­ing on Mon­day.

“They ap­pre­ci­ate the re­port and will sup­port us to look at the is­sue – in par­tic­u­lar, to com­pare what will tran­spire from the re­search re­port.” she said.

PHOTO: ALET PRE­TO­RIUS

C ONCE RNED Mil­dred Oliphant

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