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South Africa
Economy - Development | Labour

South African polemics on minimum wage

afrol News, 30 May - Limpopo Province Premier Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi has caused outrage among trade unions by his statements on South Africa's minimum wages, claiming they cost thousands of jobs. A farm worker's minimum wage is set at R650 (euro 75) - a month.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions - COSATU - today expressed its "shock and disappointment" at the comments attributed to Ngoako Ramatlhodi, the Premier of the Limpopo Province, as reported in 'Business Day' on 29 May 2003, that the minimum wage for farm workers is costing thousands of jobs and should be reconsidered.

- This flatly contradicts the policy of his own party and the law passed by his own government, says COSATU spokesman Patrick Craven. "Premier Ramatlhodi however denies that he does not support the sectoral determination on minimum wages for these vulnerable farm and domestic workers."

The Limpopo Premier, who belongs to South Africa's ruling ANC party, says he feels that his comments were exaggerated and will set the record straight regarding this determination.

However COSATU today wished "to put it on record that it fully supports the minimum wage legislation for farm workers." The country's main trade union agreed with ANC Minister of Labour, Membathisi Mdladlana, who had warned farmers that the government will not tolerate employers who defy the law, "those who think they can put the clock back" or "stop the ANC’s transformation agenda."

Given South Africa's relative high costs, the R650 minimum is barely enough to live on. "Anything below that constitutes starvation wages," COSATU maintains. The trade union therefore rejected the argument that a minimum wage inevitably leads to job losses and believed" employers, many of whom are not paying the minimum wage anyway, are just using it as an excuse to cut jobs."

- Our leaders should not turn themselves into spokespersons of Agri South Africa and the other conservative farmers who for decades have not only taken full advantage of apartheid to exploit farm workers but have abused them, COSTAU spokesman Craven said, addressing the ANC leadership.

Farm workers had hardly tasted freedom and democracy, he added. "They are at most times victims of unscrupulous bosses, many of whom are racists who have turned their farms into islands where they can, with impunity, practise their evil and racist abuses against hapless farm workers."

- Premier Ngoako Ramathlodi should have thought about this constituency of the ANC before making these unfortunate remarks, Mr Craven adds. "Commitment to a better life for all also means that farm and domestic workers receives basic protection from the government - not collusion with those responsible for their misery."

COSATU was to give the Department of Labour every assistance in enforcing the law and preventing the unlawful dismissal of workers. Its affiliates would do everything possible to recruit farm workers into the trade unions so that they had the strength to stand up to intimidation by the bosses and enjoy a decent wage for their labour.

During the last years, South Africa has seen thousands of jobs lost to neighbour countries, where salaries and taxes are lower and labour regulations are ignored. This, however, mainly has hit the industry, not the agricultural sector.

On the other hand, South Africa also has been able to create new jobs due to the political and economic stability in the country and the high skills - in a regional perspective - of its labour. The agricultural sector in particular has become a lucrative industry.

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