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“Much of the debate about the national minimum wage has been characterised by what can be called the ‘half a loaf is better than none’ – approach. It is seductive to think that perhaps it is better to have a bad paying job than no job at all. This view has been especially widespread in the corporate sector and amongst business leaders. It is a slippage that we all tempted to make, because we value work and the dignity that goes with it. Yet, if one earns less than R 20-00 an hour (or even at R 20-00 per hour) there is virtually no prospect of moving out of poverty in this generation, and in all likelihood the next generation will find themselves poor and continuing to live below the poverty line.

That is one of the reasons why a National Minimum Wage is such a critical piece of legislation, because it asks us to consider not just what we know, but also the nature of our reality. It asks us to consider what concessions workers need to make in order to set a basic floor for wages that can be extended to all workers. It asks us to confront, that as a society neither the market nor government provides anything resembling a ‘social compact’ for the millions of unemployed.
In confronting this reality, it appears that the challenge is quite large. One way to think about the issues that confront us is to distinguish between strategies of pre-distribution and redistribution.”

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South Africa’s National Minimum Wage: A Total Sell Out? Or Bright Light in a Dark Tunnel?
by Salma Abdool & Ebrahim Fakir

This paper takes a balaced approach, navigating the middle ground between either a solely moral argument, or purely economic one.

We ask, what does the national minimum wage really offer? Is it a total sell out, or does it provide some light at the end of the tunnel? Negotiated at NEDLAC to be set at R20 per hour, or R3500 in monthly terms, the proposed national minimum wage does not meet either the living wage level, or the decent wage threshold.

This leaves many, particularly family members who are dependent on one workers wage, living below the working poor line (estimated to be R4317 as of February 2016).

While South African families often depend on one wage earner per family in which the R3500 per month would be insufficient, there are some benefits to be derived from setting a baseline for the distribution of wages.

While a wage level of R3500 is not “Just”, it does have positive spin-offs. Two of the employment sectors in which a Minimum Wage of R3500 will be have an immediate positive impact on, is agricultural and domestic workers – whom to date earn significantly below the working-poor line.

When the National Minimum Wage comes into effect, approximately 4.3 million low wage workers will immediately have their wages raised. This paper agrees that the National Minimum Wage policy be reviewed annually for assessment and adjustment in order to meet the needs of workers, and further agrees that the current negotiated level is a good baseline from which to advance workers interests.

Key words: National Minimum Wage, Working Poor Line, Poverty Line

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