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South Africa national strike: Justifiable or not

April 28, 2018

By Prince Kurupati

Demonstrators wearing a t-shirt of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) take part in a national strike called by South African Federation of Trade Unions SAFTU against a government proposed minimum wage on April 25, 2018 in Johannesburg. / AFP PHOTO / MUJAHID SAFODIEN

Demonstrators wearing a t-shirt of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) take part in a national strike called by South African Federation of Trade Unions SAFTU against a government proposed minimum wage on April 25, 2018 in Johannesburg. / AFP PHOTO / MUJAHID SAFODIEN

On Wednesday 25 April 2018, business came to a halt in most parts of South Africa especially in Johannesburg where thousands of people clad in red clogged the streets striking against the government’s minimum wage.

Yesterday’s massive strike was more of a continuation of another strike started by the bus drivers. The bus drivers’ strike started on Monday this week. The objective of the drivers’ was to force the government to adjust the Rand 20 an hour rate. This same objective is what yesterday’s national strike was all about, raising the Rand 20 an hour rate.

The government is yet to state its position concerning the national strike which was organised by South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) in solidarity with the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union. Given that the government is already considering National Minimum Wage Bill, the Labour Relations Bill and the Basic Conditions of Employment Bill, any response to the strike is expected once deliberations on these bills end.

However, it seems like any decision to be taken by the government needs to resonate in some way to the workers’ demands as they have already stated that the failure by the government to honour their demands would result in another massive collective job action which will be stronger and longer. This is despite the fact that other unions such as the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and its affiliates stayed away from the national strike.

The national strike has divided opinion between those who view it as a necessary evil and those who think that the workers’ demand to increase the minimum wage from R3, 500 to R12, 500 a month is too much.

Justifiable

Standing in the corner of those who are saying that this national strike is right and justifiable is the radical opposition party, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). EFF released a statement in which it stated that it’s in unison with the workers. One of the major reasons why the EFF supports the national strike as taken from the statement relates to the government’s decision to revise upwards VAT, fuel levy and sugar tax. The EFF said that by virtue of increasing taxes, the government also has an obligation to increase the workers’ salaries as the high taxes negatively impacts the worker.

The EFF went further to state that the decision to increase taxes negatively impacts the present inequalities between the elite and the poor. This assertion is supported by a study in a Bloomberg post which revealed that South African CEOs are the 5th highest paid in the world, earning more than CEOs in the US and India. To the EFF and others supporting the national strike, the increase in taxes should correspond with the increase in prices.

Workers’ demands excessive

There is, however, another school of thought which suggests that the workers’ demands are quite excessive and that the timing of the national strike is wrong. Those in this corner, economists mostly suggest that the increase in taxes should not correspond with the increase in salaries. The thinking expressed by many is that entities financially perform differently at any time, this is to say that workers in different fields cannot all at the same time force the hand of the employer into fulfilling their demands.

FEDUSA, another trade union said that it’s not wise to strike for the minimum wage at a time when the government is already deliberating on the National Minimum Wage Bill. The union also said advocating for a hefty increase from R3, 500 to R12, 500 is a bit dangerous as it can lead to the retrenchment of some workers if the employers feel that they are unable to pay all their staff the minimum wage. This would in turn adversely affect the workers.

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