Milestone in minimum wage debate

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Another milestone in the implementation of the national minimum wage legislation will be reached this week when labour minister Mildred Oliphant announces members of the commission set up to review and adjust the R20 hourly rate.

The composition of the commission has been a source of the delays in the implementation of the new law with big business objecting to some of the names put forward by government and organised labour.

The national minimum wage Act is an important piece of legislation as it would improve the lives of more than six million workers who, until the beginning of the new year, earned less than R20 an hour.

The minimum hourly rate is not enough, yes, but it is a huge improvement for those who were earning well under it.

It is within this context that the commission becomes important.

It is a body that would, annually, review the rate and, when appropriate, advise that it be adjusted upwards.

Hence the big push from organised business that the panel be dominated by experts who are sympathetic to companies, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises.

In the negotiations over who should be in the commission, business is reported to have been particularly unhappy with the nomination of senior economist Neva Makgetla, who was for many years the head of policy and research at trade union federation Cosatu.

Business was also unhappy with sociologist Sarah Mosoetsa, whose views are said to be regarded as "too left-wing" in business circles.

However we believe that, for the commission to succeed in improving the lives of people, it needs the likes of Makgetla and Mosoetsa to work side by side with pro-business commission members such as Nedbank executive Kaizer Moyane and Global Business Solutions CEO Jonathan Goldberg.

The two sides will spar against each other at the commission until they find workable solutions that would help improve the lives of vulnerable workers while not jeopardising the survival of small businesses whose collapse would lead to more job losses (in a country battling job creation).

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