Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant placed the responsibility for government’s inability to enact the laws which will animate the national minimum wage at the feet of the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) and Parliament.

Speaking to reporters in Cape Town on Monday evening, she said, however, that failing to get the national minimum wage implemented in time for the symbolic deadline of Workers’ Day was not necessarily a train smash.

The minister also faced tough questions about what is seen to be the sanitisation of the national minimum wage bill since government reached its agreement with Nedlac. The department admitted that the deadline could very well be as late as one or two months after May.

Points of contention concerning the agreement include a complaint researchers made to Parliament last week that the agreed abolishment of sectoral determination was absent in the bill that eventually made its way to Parliament.

It was envisaged that farm workers and domestic workers get a rate of R18 per hour and R15 per hour respectively and that this be raised to the proposed R20 per hour in two years’ time. Oliphant told reporters that the Nedlac process and Parliament slowed the finalisation of the national minimum wage down considerably.

“Before, we raised the issue that we wanted to implement the wage, depending on the processes in Parliament. We raised that in Nedlac. We raised that to say that if they do not conclude their process fast enough, it could not be guaranteed that the wage would be implemented by the first of May,” said Oliphant.

She said the next possible house sitting that would be able to deal with the bills after the conclusion of public hearings would be at the end of April. Thereafter, the National Council of Provinces would have to deliberate on the bill. By the time this can take place the first week of May will have passed, she said.

“It is out of our hands as the executives as we do not have control over Parliamentary processes. I am pleased to say we have briefed both the portfolio committee and the select committee on these matters. But it is not possible for the NCOP to look at this when the National Assembly has not looked at it yet,” she said.

Labour Director General Thobile Lamati said it took Nedlac a long while to conclude this work, but that the department wanted to give them the space to do so.

“It is now clear that given the submissions that people are making and the beginning of the portfoilio committee process, there has been a dire need for more time. It is important that more time is allocated and people are given a chance to submit,” said Lemati.

Chief director of labour relations, Thembinkosi Mkalipi, said the agreement to bring farm worker and domestic worker minimums to the R20 per hour would be subject to research which is has yet to be concluded.

“Domestic and farm workers should meet the national minimum wage in two years’ time, and according to the Nedlac agreement that is clear. The research would need to be done. You can’t put in legislation that was agreed on, and go with that without research and proper process,” said Mkalipi.

He maintained that the processes relating to employers who could not afford the national minimum wage still stood and would be part of the work of the national minimum wage committee.

“You will know that as things currently stand, 46% of workers earn less that R20 per hour. The law is clear. You either pay the national minimum wage or you apply for an exemption and seek another amount that can be granted,” Mkalipi said.

Oliphant said she briefed President Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday to say that government would be unable to implement the national minimum wage by the first of May.

Article: Khulekani Magubane, Fin24