R3 440 is too lit­tle, too late

CityPress - - Business - Terry Bell busi­ness@city­press.co.za

The bit­ter in­ternecine feud­ing within the ANC-led al­liance has caused ma­jor dis­rup­tion within Cosatu-af­fil­i­ated unions. And it shows lit­tle sign of abat­ing, fol­low­ing an­other tu­mul­tuous pe­riod over the past week.

It may be bold, and per­haps fool­hardy, to pre­dict in such chaotic cir­cum­stances what any out­come may be, but it cer­tainly seems as if, de­spite all the ex­pressed op­po­si­tion, Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma will re­main in power. At least un­til 2019.

In the mean­time, all man­ner of be­hind-thescenes lob­by­ing and ma­nip­u­la­tion is tak­ing place, es­pe­cially over whether Zuma should stay or go – and when.

The stal­warts – some 200 vet­er­ans of the move­ment – have made their play, with much sound and fury – and lit­tle sub­stance. The same ap­plied to the Cosatu cen­tral ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee in a week that be­gan with the long-awaited an­nounce­ment of a min­i­mum wage.

But if this an­nounce­ment was meant to ex­press grow­ing na­tional unity, it failed, de­spite the ap­par­ent una­nim­ity shown ini­tially about the min­i­mum wage pro­pos­als. For these were only pro­pos­als, still very much open to de­bate and with no fi­nal timescale for im­ple­men­ta­tion.

Yet, for many in the labour move­ment, this wage an­nounce­ment was ex­pected to be a wa­ter­shed mo­ment, some­thing that would al­most in­stantly trans­form the lives of at least the low-paid half of the work­ing pop­u­la­tion.

Such ex­pec­ta­tions were naive, since the state­ment about a min­i­mum wage came from a panel that was only go­ing to ad­vise what should be done re­gard­ing such a wage.

On the ba­sis of this nar­row man­date, the Na­tional Devel­op­ment Eco­nomic and Labour Coun­cil panel did ster­ling work, go­ing through more than 60 re­search pa­pers and con­sult­ing widely.

Their work showed clearly that such a move on the wage front would be of over­all ben­e­fit, al­though it needed to be closely stud­ied.

How­ever, this process fol­lowed nearly two years of dead­locks be­tween labour and busi­ness over the level to be set for a min­i­mum wage. So it was scarcely sur­pris­ing that, within hours of the wage an­nounce­ment, there were rum­blings of dis­con­tent.

The dis­con­tent is about not only the in­ad­e­quacy of a min­i­mum wage of R20 an hour, or R3 440 a month, but also the pos­si­ble two- to three-year de­lay in im­ple­men­ta­tion. Do­mes­tic work­ers in par­tic­u­lar are up in arms over the sug­ges­tion that they should ini­tially qual­ify for only 75% of the pro­posed min­i­mum.

How­ever, Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa main­tained that this was a “step in the right di­rec­tion”.

But for many in the labour move­ment, it seems to be a step that was both too lit­tle, too late and failed to take cog­ni­sance of the wider re­al­ity, es­pe­cially of the grow­ing ranks of the un­em­ployed and in­creas­ingly un­em­ploy­able.

And, if there was any doubt about these fig­ures con­tin­u­ing to grow, the Labour Force Sur­vey an­nounced on Tues­day put those to rest. Of­fi­cially recog­nised un­em­ploy­ment has reached a 13-year high.

Rad­i­cal mea­sures are clearly needed but, with the gov­ern­ing party em­broiled in con­flict, there seems even less chance now of the po­lit­i­cal will be­ing mus­tered to adopt the holis­tic poli­cies and take the steps nec­es­sary for any real change.

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