Objections to the draft national minimum wage bill by the Wits University National Minimum Wage Research Initiative are “bordering on delusion”, according to labour department director general Thobile Lamati.
Lamati dismissed the concerns raised by the research group in a detailed media statement on Wednesday, saying it undermined the “intelligence” of the parliamentary portfolio committee on labour and implied the department acted “insolently”.
On Monday, the Wits think tank said the department has undermined and weakened some sections of the bill by not correctly reflecting the resolutions of the parliamentary portfolio committee on labour.
It said that among other issues, the drafting of the sections on the retention of sectoral determinations was weak.
The department said that contrary to what the research group said, it had worked fairly with all social partners to craft the bills.
Labour Federation Cosatu’s parliamentary officer Matthew Parks told Business Day that it was “happy” with the draft bill and considered the legislation as a “major victory”.
“We are happy with the additional changes made to the bills. They’re what we were calling for. They strengthen the bills.
“For example, increased sanctions on businesses who don’t pay the national minimum wage (NMW), protect sectoral determinations, include the expanded definition of workers and guarantee farm worker and domestic workers will be fast-tracked to 100% of the NMW,” he said.
Lamati said the group had misunderstood the legal provisions for sectoral determinations and added functions “now given to the NMW commission”.
“There is nothing weak about the retention of sectoral determinations nor in the way in which the NMW Commission is empowered to engage with the process of making sectoral determinations,” he said.
Meanwhile, the committee had to cancel its meeting on the bills in Cape Town on Wednesday after clashes between members of the South African Federation of Trade Unions and parliamentary security officials.
Saftu is opposed to the three labour relations bills before Parliament, including the implementation of R20 as the minimum hourly rate.
The federation claimed its members were forcefully evicted from the meeting and assaulted by the officials after complaining about committee’s “sidelining” of submissions made by Saftu.
Committee chairwoman Sharome van Schalkwyk said the incident was unfortunate and did not speak to how South Africans resolve differences of opinion.
“The committee will not be distracted and derailed in trying to improve the conditions many of our poor working South Africans find themselves in. The processes on the national minimum wage are unfolding, and this drastic and chaotic stance is not warranted,” she said.
“Parliament is a place for persuasion and engagement, hence the committee has adopted the approach of listening to all stakeholders even after the deadline of its processes regarding oral submissions,” she said.
Van Schalkwyk said the committee accepted that activists had a right to protest, but that right should not seek to interfere with the work of Parliament and the rights of others.
“There will still be an opportunity to engage with the bill during the National Council of Provinces’ processes and therefore members should be allowed to do their job without hindrance,” she said.