CityPress - - Business - DE­WALD VAN RENS­BURG de­wald.vrens­burg@city­press.co.za

Big busi­ness came un­der fire this week for skip­ping an im­por­tant min­i­mum wage event. The busi­ness and govern­ment-led teams rep­re­sent­ing Ned­lac – the con­sen­sus-seek­ing body com­pris­ing govern­ment, busi­ness, labour and civil so­ci­ety – de­clined to at­tend a sym­po­sium on the sin­gle na­tional min­i­mum wage that was held at the Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand.

This high­lighted the di­vide that has dead­locked Ned­lac talks on the es­tab­lish­ment of a sin­gle na­tional min­i­mum wage.

This dead­lock means mil­lions of vul­ner­a­ble and poorly paid lo­cal work­ers will con­tinue to be left out of the net that a na­tional min­i­mum wage would oth­er­wise pro­vide.

Vanessa Phala, a Busi­ness Unity SA (Busa) di­rec­tor and part of the busi­ness team in the Ned­lac talks, said the no-show at the sym­po­sium was be­cause of a sim­ple sched­ul­ing clash.

“Busa could not at­tend the sym­po­sium be­cause we had our own so­cial and trans­for­ma­tion pol­icy com­mit­tee,” she said.

Talks at Ned­lac on the na­tional min­i­mum wage have halted de­spite an un­of­fi­cial man­date to have some­thing ready for Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma to an­nounce in his state of the na­tion ad­dress on Thurs­day.

Ev­ery­thing points to busi­ness and govern­ment eye­ing a wage floor that is worlds apart from the R4 500 a month en­dorsed by Cosatu, the Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers and oth­ers as an ab­so­lute min­i­mum.

This com­pares with the ex­ist­ing sec­toral min­i­mums of be­tween R2 000 and R3 000 a month, which only cover se­lected “vul­ner­a­ble” sec­tors.

The or­gan­is­ers, the Wits Na­tional Min­i­mum Wage Re­search Ini­tia­tive, wrote in an email to del­e­gates they “re­gard the re­buff­ing of an op­por­tu­nity for con­struc­tive pub­lic en­gage­ment as un­for­tu­nate”.

The work com­ing out of the Wits unit has ap­par­ently met with steely re­sis­tance from the non-union par­ties in Ned­lac.

“The de­ci­sion by busi­ness rep­re­sen­ta­tives within the Ned­lac task team to rep­re­sent our re­search as at­tached to labour is one of a num­ber of at­tempts to side­line it,” said Gi­lad Isaacs, co­or­di­na­tor of the Wits unit.

“Per­haps this is be­cause the ev­i­dence pro­duced does not sup­port the in­tro­duc­tion of an ul­tralow na­tional min­i­mum wage,” he added.

The rep­re­sen­ta­tives of busi­ness at Ned­lac had be­come in­creas­ingly hos­tile to the body be­cause it had moved the de­bate to­wards an am­bi­tious level for the min­i­mum wage, Isaacs said.

Busa’s Phala dis­missed this, say­ing there was no grudge and that “the re­search con­ducted by Wits was pre­sented through the labour con­stituency to Ned­lac, and that all con­stituen­cies pro­vided their com­ments”.

The Wits unit’s vo­lu­mi­nous work is not of­fi­cially com­mis­sioned for the Ned­lac process, but it has man­aged to be­come one of the most vis­i­ble lo­cal at­tempts to an­swer press­ing ques­tions about what a min­i­mum wage would achieve.

The unit’s work thus far in­cludes modelling that shows even high min­i­mum wages would have over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive eco­nomic ef­fects at the cost of very few un­skilled jobs.

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