Time to stop cheating the poor
The discussions regarding the proposed national minimum wage reveal the kind of values we hold dear as South Africans and that we still have a long way to go towards achieving the just and equal society many of us would like to see.
Most concerning in this regard was business’ proposed wage of R1 500. This amount was a clear and disturbing sign of a lack of commitment to the radical transformation this country requires.
We know, thanks to an abundance of research, that even the current proposed minimum wage of R3 500 is insufficient and falls far short of the R4 000 minimum amount required by poor South Africans – together with the social wage and other state initiatives and interventions – to live and, hopefully, escape from poverty.
The amount proposed by business contradicts repeated comments by the private sector along the lines of, “For development to occur, poverty alleviation is crucial.”
Furthermore, it is no longer sufficient to speak about work provision without focusing on the quality of the work at hand.
As Treasury noted in the 2013 Budget Review: “Decent work is about both earned income and the living conditions of working people.”
We are seeing the consequences of a widespread lack of decent work for many people who are considered employed, and how income inequality creates a situation where an underpaid middle class – in particular, black middle-income earners – feels justified in underpaying poorer people in their employ because they, too, feel that they are not earning enough.
In some instances, employers are involved in illegal work provision and use this as an excuse to exploit undocumented foreign nationals.
The normalisation of this cycle of exploiting the poor creates a national crisis and diminishes any chance of social justice being achieved, because that notion is undermined by big business as well as in private homes.
While it is deeply uncomfortable, we cannot avoid the urgency of honestly appraising how many of us have become okay with balancing the books – in our businesses and homes – on the backs of the poor.
We can no longer pretend that the issue of the working poor has to do with big business alone, when it is widespread in ordinary South African homes as well. If we are to speak of decent work, it must be a reality in the domestic arena too.
Decent work should not be a concept hidden in government documents.
It should be the norm and the agreed point of reference when we tackle the subject of work.
The normalisation of this cycle of exploiting the poor diminishes any chance of social justice