The national minimum wage is not a living wage, President Cyril Ramaphosa told crowds gathered at the Dr. Rantlai Petrus Molemela Stadium in Bloemfontein for Freedom Day celebrations on Friday.
Ramaphosa delivered an address where he highlighted the “tremendous strides” made in the 24-year-old democracy, as well as the areas where freedom still needs to be realised.
“We have made important progress in improving the conditions of the working poor.
“Parliament is currently finalising legislation so that we can implement a national minimum wage for the first time in our country’s history, fulfilling a demand made at the Congress of the People in 1955,” he said.
Ramaphosa called the national minimum wage agreement a “great victory” for workers in South Africa, but he was not unaware of the criticisms of the wage.
“Some people have argued that the starting minimum wage of R20 an hour is not a living wage. They are correct. Some argue that the national minimum wage will not end income inequality. They too are correct,” he said.
Ramaphosa explained that the national minimum wage provides a “firm and unassailable” foundation from which to build towards a living wage.
“A wage increase of that size and that extent is unprecedented in our history, and we must celebrate it.
“The national minimum wage is like a great hill that we have climbed, but we dare not linger, because there are still many more hills to climb.”
Earlier this week the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) led by Zwelinzima Vavi held a nation-wide strike challenging the national minimum wage agreement and amendments to labour bills.
Vavi called the national minimum wage a “slave wage” and challenged politicians to live on R20 per hour. Vavi previously said at a march to Parliament that Ramaphosa should take the proposed rate of R20 per hour and “put it in the backs” of his buffalo.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions, which did not participate in the strike believe that the national minimum wage is a starting point, as there are six million South Africans who are earning less than R20 per hour.
Cosatu’s parliamentary coordinator Matthew Parks told Fin24 this week that he was not sure why Saftu would strike over something that is going to benefit 46% of South Africa’s workers.
The Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) called the strike “self-serving” and did not participate either. Fedusa shared Cosatu’s views that the minimum wage, which is subject to annual review, will benefit workers.