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Wary Unions OK New Minimum Wage

The enactment of South Africa’s National Minimum Wage Bill has been welcomed by workers and trade unions, but skeptical economists have questioned the timing.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced last week that millions would be eligible to earn a minimum of R20 an hour, or R3500 (approximately $252) a month, the local Cape Times newspaper reported. The bill was signed Nov. 23 and went into effect Jan. 1.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) said the move offers a solid foundation for workers.

“This is part of addressing issues of economic growth with regard to income distribution and unemployment,” said COSATU spokesman Sizwe Pamla. “We don’t understand why it is important to have an economy where workers produce goods and can’t afford them.”

The Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) said the announcement came at a time when workers were struggling to make ends meet.

“We are happy that our people will never be exploited,” said FEDUSA spokesman Dennis George. “At least this will force every employer to pay that required R20 an hour.

“To be honest, there’s never been a right time to introduce this bill because there will always be people criticizing it, despite the current economic conditions,” he said. We are happy that about 6.2 million people will benefit from this bill.”

However, economist Chris Hart was not convinced about the announcement’s timing, saying it was a strategy for the African National Congress to score votes in the May elections.

“I don’t have a problem with the minimum wage if we have policies to end poverty,” Hart said. “The problem is, we need to create more jobs at the moment. The unemployment rate is the biggest issue.”

Meanwhile, the lowest-paid workers, such as petrol attendants and domestic workers, said it provided much-needed relief.

“At least R20 per hour will make a difference because I was not surviving with the money I am earning,” said a 33-year-old petrol attendant, who did not want to be named. “I was struggling to pay rent and look after my children.”

Matlakala Tabile, a 50-year-old domestic worker and mother of three, said she barely made ends meet with the little she made.

“It’s even hard to buy food,” she said. “I think this will make a difference.”

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