A brief analysis of a minimum wage, women and the idea of freedom
IOL / 03 JUNE 2018 - 10:30 / BATHABILE DLAMINI
On Tuesday this week a historic moment occurred in the South African legislative landscape, as Parliament passed the National Minimum Wage Bill of 2017. The bill is currently before the National Council of Provinces for concurrence and has reignited the widespread public debate that emerged when the bill was first introduced to the public last year.
Those who oppose the bill argue that the minimum wage of R3500 a month, or R20 an hour is not a living wage, that it further marginalises the unemployed and denies them the liberty and right to find employment. They assert that many unemployed and/or inexperienced people, who would be prepared to work for lower wages, would be denied such an opportunity - thus exacerbating unemployment rates, especially among young people.
Minister Bathabile Dlamini Picture: Ntswe Mokoena/GCIS
Others add that the minimum wage legislation neglects the vast economic differences between urban and rural labour landscapes. They say the bill protects mainly the workers employed in urban, formal jobs, while displacing those in rural, informal sectors. It is often claimed that, unlike the urban labour market, employers in rural areas may not be able to afford R3500 a month per employee and may be forced out of business.
At the same time, workers in rural areas who may be willing to work for less than the minimum wage, would be cast into the large national pool of the unemployed.
On the other end of the spectrum are those who oppose the minimum wage for being "pitifully low". They suggest that R20 a hour will cast those who are already living in poverty into further economic misery and will widen the gap between the poor and the wealthy.
What is absent from public discussion is an examination of how the minimum wage would impact differently upon women and men.
For centuries, globally and locally, women have been paid less than their male counterparts, who do the same and sometimes less work than them. Moreover, women are disproportionately over-represented in industries where the greatest numbers of workers earn less than R20 an hour.
This has been confirmed by the latest statistics from the office of the statistician-general, which reveal that women, particularly black women, are less likely to participate in the labour market. We can attribute this to gendered exposure to education, historic trivialisation of women’s work, the exclusion of women from formal work and their segregation into the lower working classes.
In light of this and despite (or concurrent to) the prevailing contestations over legislative processes leading to the passing of the bill, it is necessary to consider how the concept of a national minimum wage would contribute to the socio-economic empowerment of women. The transformation of the South African regulatory labour landscape, led by the National Minimum Wage Bill, will be characterised by a salary increase for about a third of employees in the lowest-paid sectors.
According to the Minister of Labour, this amounts to about 6.6 million workers.
Noting that the large majority are women, it is important that our public dialogues consider the concept of a national minimum wage in relation to the gender pay gap and the overall socio-economic emancipation of women.
The International Labour Organisation supports this position, arguing in 2010 that minimum wages globally are most likely to benefit women and contribute to “combating gender-based pay discrimination and addressing the vulnerability of women to becoming trapped in low-paid jobs.
The contribution of minimum wages to improving women’s wages should be recognised as an objective in its own right, since women typically benefit more than male workers from minimum wages increases."
Yet debates on the national minimum wage should not be limited to the gender wage gap. Rather, the minimum wage should be viewed as it is intended - as a complementary component of the wider national labour law framework. This includes the Basic Conditions of Employment and Labour Relations Amendment Bills, other social and employment laws and policies, and collective bargaining processes.
The concept of a national minimum wage further supports the efforts of the Department of Women to adopt a multisectoral approach in addressing gender discrimination, particularly violence on women and the high femicide rates in our country.
It complements our efforts to ensure that women and men are not differently considered or represented in all of the major areas of the economy.
We are also developing a National Gender Indicator Framework, which will guide the "gendering" of data collection in key priority areas, such as skills development for female entrepreneurs, access to development finance, enterprise development opportunities, and credit and property.
Therefore, as society continues to engage and enrich public debates on the national minimum wage, we call upon and encourage women’s lobby groups in the private sector, women’s legal centres, academic institutions, political parties, NGOs and community-based groups to contribute by inserting a gender lens in all law-making processes.
The success of our efforts to lead the socio-economic liberation of women depends on a strong women’s movement that ceaselessly asserts a gender transformation agenda in all areas of the developmental state.
* Dlamini is the Minister in the Presidency Responsible for Women.
Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER