Thousands of workers may have been out on the streets of South Africa to protest the minimum wage on Wednesday under the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), but other union federations elected not to join the countrywide marches.
Congress of South African Trade Unions and Federation of Unions of South Africa have come out to say that the minimum wage of R3500 was negotiated in good faith over a period of two years and was signed off by government, labour and business.
The broad force of labour remains unable to speak with one voice. Saftu spearheaded the nationwide march today, while others decided to stay put.
Cosatu says the minimum wage was part of a bigger discussion to ultimately create comprehensive social security net for families who didn’t earn enough. And it says that discussion with government is ongoing.
However, general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali says it’s important that when workers are pressed to go on strikes that, indeed, it’s their choice to do so.
“It can’t come from the top, from the leadership that we instruct union members and say on this day
You’re not going to go to work, you must lose your salary and therefore you must be taking this course. It has to come from the members themselves. They need to say to the leadership we want to go on strike because we want to air our views on this particular issue.”
Another federation questioned the motives of the latest labour action, also arguing that the minimum wage deal has been done and dusted already.
General Secretary of Fedusa, Dennis George says, “I think if a person looks at what is the intention and the purpose of the strike, then it’s almost like the train already left the station. A reality that we have to face.”
Ntshalintshal poured cold water over the notion that the latest labour law amendments would do away with workers’ right to strike and the protection thereof.
“There’s nothing new about the right to strike, nobody can change the right to strike, so people say it’s not going to be difficult for workers to go on strike, absolutely opportunistic and disingenious…but your strike will still be protected.”
If there had been a collective change of mind among labour, perhaps today’s proceedings would have made a dent in how the minimum wage is set to unfold.
But with Cosatu and Fedusa seemingly willing to support the current minimum wage as is, it begs whether today’s action will make a difference.
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