Parliament is considering making the biggest changes to Mzansi’s labour laws since 1995 - and these changes are a significant setback for the working class and its ability to represent its interests. The three bills under consideration include amendments to the Labour Relations Act (LRA) and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), as well as the new National Minimum Wage Bill (NMW).
Throughout 2017 the public was made to believe that the NMW is going to be R3,500 per month but the NMW Bill makes it clear that there will be no monthly minimum wage of R3,500, only R20 per hour. Workers will only earn the much-heralded R3,500 if they work a 40 hour week. Yet large sections of the workforce no longer works 40 hour week. Labour broker, sub-contracted and workers in short term contracts often work variable hours and are therefore unlikely to earn R3,500.
The NMW was supposed to be a win for workers, but at R20 per hour, the national minimum wage fails to confront economic inequality, and it doesn’t apply to casual workers, like domestic workers who will earn R15 per hour . To make things worse it now appears that what was agreed at Nedlac between unions and the private sector, is not what has appeared in the government gazette. The current amendment would exclude marginalised workers like farm workers, domestic workers etc from the national minimum wage. It also excludes contract workers, which the Department of Labour claims was an error in wording, but with so much at stake we have to watch carefully.
In respect of the amendments to the BCEA, the phasing out of the sectoral determinations in favour of the NMW will prejudice the rights of workers. Their repeal without safeguarding any of the protections currently in place for these workers will severely impact their rights. Another major problem with the Bills is the approach to enforcement of the NMW. With the amendments enforcement will now largely fall to the CCMA and not the Department of Labour, as is the case with wage underpayments currently. This additional responsibility alone will dramatically increase the scope of the CCMA’s work, besides the additional workload envisaged by the advisory arbitration and default picketing rules. This additional responsibility is coming at a time when the demand on the CCMA is already extremely high, in 2016/2017 an average of 745 cases were referred every day.
Politicians have been talking about how they are promoting workers rights, yet these amendments will undermine workers right to strike, remove workers protections, make casual workers even more vulnerable and put even more power in the hands of employers to set wages. There has been hardly any media coverage of this issue, that’s why it’s critical we sound the alarm.
The reality is that the majority of workers are not unionised, and casual workers in particular have not had an opportunity to feedback on these amendments even though they affect them the most. The Department of Labour did not do proper consultation and the public briefings happened before the draft amendments were released on the 17th November 2017. The deadline for submissions from the public was extended to 16 March. But the parliamentary labour committee has already indicated that the submissions will be summarised for it to discuss on 19 March, and then place before parliament on 27 March. It appears that government is intent on rushing through these bills for planned fanfare on May Day when the National Minimum Wage will be introduced.
Workers are the backbone of Mzansi’s economy. And we know the many hardships they are confronted with under very trying conditions throughout the country. Their hard-fought rights are one of the key features that distinguishes our democracy, and we cannot allow these gains to be lost.
Dear Minister of Labour, Mildred Nelisiwe Oliphant and the Chairperson of Portfolio Committee on Labour
We, the undersigned, object to the proposed amendments to the Labour Relations Act and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, as well as the new National Minimum Wage Bill. Despite your department insisting that it was not its intention to deviate from the Nedlac agreement and cited printing errors, other deviations from the Nedlac national minimum wage agreement seem to remain unresolved, in addition to the anti-worker amendments to the legislation. It is unlikely that all of these changes can be attributed to bureaucratic errors.
We call on you to protect gains made by workers since 1995 by adopting the following proposals:
- The proposed amendments on strike ballots, default picketing rules, extended conciliation and advisory arbitration be scrapped.
- The LRA to be amended to prevent employers from using scab labour during procedural strikes.
- Reinstatement into the LRA of workers’ right to strike over disputes of right.
- Trade unions organise a majority of workers in a sector before the establishment of a bargaining council is permitted or for bargaining council agreements to be extended to non-parties, without this being an equivalent requirement for employer.
- A national monthly minimum wage be enacted. The setting of the amount must involve workers through a process of mass consultations with various options put to a popular vote.
- The Minister of Labour’s right to make sectoral determinations must be retained.
- The making of new determinations for sectors currently covered only by the BCEA.
- The National Minimum Wage Commission to have the power to investigate not only wages but also other conditions of employment in specific sectors and advise the Minister of Labour on the making of further sectoral determinations.
- Enforcement of worker rights to remain the responsibility of a completely overhauled Labour Inspectorate, with a dramatic increase in personnel, training and monitoring of their performance and extended powers for labour inspectors, especially to enforce compliance orders.
- Mandatory obligations on labour inspectors to consult with and account to workers when workplace inspections are carried out.
This campaign is in collaboration with the Casual Workers Advice Office and the ScrapNewLabourLaws campaign which includes unions, labour organisations and NGOs.
 What will Ramaphosa do for the workers? Adam Aboobaker and Josh Budlender for Business Day. Feb 6, 2018.
 Why changes to South Africa’s labour laws are an assault on workers’ rights, The Conversation. Dec 12, 2017.
 Publication of the Labour Relations Amendment Bill 2018, NO. R. 1273. Department of Labour, 17th November 2017.