Time to stop cheat­ing the poor

CityPress - - Voices & Careers - Gugulethu Mhlungu voices@city­press.co.za

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

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