Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane. Picture: ALON SKUY
Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane. Picture: ALON SKUY

The DA says it rejects a blanket national minimum wage, arguing that this will lead to job losses and lock out the unemployed from the labour market.

This is despite some DA members expressing their support for the minimum wage at the party’s recently concluded national congress. Some maintained that a minimum wage was important for the protection of workers.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Parliament’s portfolio committee on labour is due to receive oral presentations from various stakeholders, including unions, on the labour bills, and then chart the way ahead on the proposed laws.

The new laws, among others, propose the setting of a national minimum wage at R20 per hour or R3,500 a month — to be reviewed annually — except for domestic and farm workers, whose rate will be set at R15 and R18 an hour. Amendments to the Labour Relations Act would also require unions to ballot their members on strike action.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane on Monday said what the Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Bill, the National Minimum Wage Bill, and the Labour Relations Amendment Bill seek to do is replace the current sectoral minimum wage approach with a blanket national minimum wage.

"While intending to raise the living standards of poor South Africans, these laws will only lead to jobs losses, and uncertainly and volatility for the most vulnerable workers. We therefore cannot support such legislation. We will be making written submissions on this matter, to ensure that the voice of the unemployed is heard," he said According to Maimane, the federal congress discussed and considered the introduction of a blanket national minimum wage, "particularity as to how we can include the voices of the almost 10-million unemployed South Africans in this matter — as it will have far-reaching implications for those without a job".

"While below the working poverty line of approximately R4,750 per month, the national minimum wage is set to raise wages for about one-third of the formal sector workforce. Arguably, this makes the national minimum wage bill the most important piece of labour market legislation since the current labour relations regime was put in place in the 1990s.

"[However] our first concern with a blanket national minimum wage — and by extension these three bills — is a procedural one. At present, the stakeholders party to national minimum wages discussions are government, business and labour. These stakeholders have enormous collective power, and naturally, each represent their own interests in the matter. However, the voice of the jobless in completely absent from the process," Maimane said.

The DA proposed the establishment of an independent panel that could not be unduly influenced by politicians, big business or big labour unions, mandated to set minimum wages for each sector. The panel would take into consideration all relevant factors, including the need to create jobs.

This approach, said Maimane, would allow in some sectors the setting of a minimum wage higher than that proposed, while protecting the vulnerable in the economy.

The DA was of the view that a blanket national minimum wage was unfeasible, "no matter how politically convenient it is for the ANC", Maimane said.

"It must be stated up front that the DA supports the intentions of a national minimum wage seeking to protect the most vulnerable workers from abuse. The debate is thus about how best we protect workers from abuse, while also advancing the interests of the almost 10-million unemployed South Africans, many of whom will suffer if a blanket national minimum wage is imposed.

"We maintain that minimum wages must be sector specific to curb job losses in marginal industries such as textiles and steel, as well as those where rapid increases will lead to job losses such as agriculture, security services and domestic work." The DA also proposed that students, the youth and interns be exempt from a minimum wage as well as workers applying for jobs in small, micro-and medium-sized enterprises, in order to help people with no experience get their first job.

To mitigate the effects of a minimum wage on the unemployed, Maimane said the party had put forward the idea of a job seekers’ exemption certificate, which is a document giving a person the right to take a job at a wage they find acceptable.

"An option must be given to the unemployed, to exempt themselves from a national minimum wage, allowing them a foot into the economy. This idea was considered at federal congress; however, no decision was taken. The DA’s federal council will therefore be considering it in due course," Maimane said.