Address by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the official proclamation of the National Minimum Wage Act Walter Sisulu Square, Kliptown, Johannesburg
Minister of Labour, Ms Mildred Oliphant,
Premier of Gauteng, Mr David Makhura,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Nedlac Executive Director, Mr Madoda Vilakazi,
Representatives of organised labour,
Representatives of business,
Representatives of the community constituency,
Workers of South Africa,
It was here, in Kliptown, in 1955, that the Congress of the People declared, for all our country and the world to know, that there shall be a minimum wage for all workers.
Now, over six decades later, we have gathered at this historic place to sign the proclamation for the introduction of the country’s first national minimum wage.
We have gathered here to declare that from the 1st of January 2019, no worker may be paid below the national minimum wage.
This is a great achievement for the working people of South Africa, who have had to endure generations of exploitation.
It is a great achievement for the labour movement, which has placed this fundamental demand at the centre of its struggle for better conditions for workers.
The national minimum wage should also be seen as an achievement for business, for it demonstrates the commitment of employers to fairer wages and better working conditions.
It is a great achievement for a young democracy that is striving to overcome a legacy of poverty and severe inequality.
Today’s signing ceremony is the culmination of several years of intense deliberations among the social partners.
There were many areas of divergence, several disagreements, many setbacks.
Yet, even at the most difficult of moments, the parties were united by a shared desire for a more equal, more prosperous South Africa.
In this sense, the national minimum wage represents the triumph of cooperation over conflict, of negotiation over confrontation.
The national minimum wage does not stand alone.
It is an important part of a broader engagement among social partners on how to reduce wage inequality and promote labour stability in South Africa.
It is a decisive step towards the achievement of a living wage and a more equal distribution of income and wealth.
We have heard the voices of those who say the starting minimum wage level of R20 an hour is too low.
We agree. It is far below what we would want workers to earn.
But we must understand that in setting the starting level, the social partners sought to strike a balance – between the need to measurably improve the income of the lowest paid workers and the need to sustain and increase levels of employment.
The social partners agreed on this starting level because the available evidence showed that it would not lead to widespread layoffs, but at the same time would increase the earnings of as many as six million working South Africans.
It is structured to make a real difference in the lives of ordinary South Africans without negatively impacting the economy.
We should expect that this additional income will contribute to greater consumption and higher demand, contributing in turn to greater economic growth and more jobs.
If implemented comprehensively, with appropriate use of exemptions and other safeguards, we see the national minimum wage as an instrument of economic stimulus.
The national minimum wage takes effect in the 25th year of our democracy – a quarter century in which the rights of workers have been progressively enhanced and entrenched.
In giving effect to the Freedom Charter, we have put in place legislation to provide for trade union workplace organisation, collective bargaining, the principle of equal pay for work of equal value, improved health and safety, affirmative action, skills development, the right to strike, and the right to peaceful protest.
These achievements fulfil a global commitment to the achievement of fundamental rights and freedoms.
Earlier today, at Constitution Hill, we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This Declaration, which binds all humanity to a common set of values, holds that:
“Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”
And, importantly for us today:
“Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for themselves and their family an existence worthy of human dignity...”
As we gather here in Kliptown, let us reaffirm our shared commitment to ensure that all the people of this land may achieve an existence worthy of human dignity.
Let us do so mindful of the past that we are working to correct and the future that we are working to build.
For as we celebrate the great achievement of a national minimum wage, we need to acknowledge that the world of work is being transformed.
Technological advances are having a profound effect on production, employment, governance and social relations.
Many of the workplaces of tomorrow will be unrecognisable.
Occupations that have been around for decades will cease to exist.
These changes are also being driven by forces like climate change and demographic shifts within and between countries.
These changes present significant risks for a country like South Africa, with high unemployment, low skills levels and widespread poverty.
Unless we respond appropriately, this 4th Industrial Revolution could deepen the inequality in our society at the very moment we are introducing measures like the national minimum wage to reduce it.
It could deepen unemployment and leave those without appropriate skills languishing on the margins of the economy.
Yet, the 4th Industrial Revolution also presents great prospects for progress and inclusive prosperity.
It holds the promise of new and better jobs – jobs that are more fulfilling, better paid, safer and healthier.
It presents countless opportunities to deploy technology to address social problems and solve developmental challenges.
It could reshape the relationship between work and life, between learning and earning.
If, as South Africa, we are to avoid the risks of the changing world of work, and instead seize the opportunities, then we need to start immediately to ready ourselves for these changes.
We need to approach this challenge as we have approached so many others – through collaboration and partnership.
In the same way that we worked together to introduce a national minimum wage, we need to organise ourselves as social partners to prepare for the new world of work.
We should not allow technology to determine our future.
Instead, we should use technology to shape the inclusive, prosperous and free society that we seek.
This means that we must adopt policies and build institutions that can direct, regulate and mediate the uncertainties of a rapidly changing economy.
It means that we must invest in the capabilities of our people, providing them with the means to acquire skills, to reskill and to upskill.
We must give real effect to the notion of lifelong learning, because the skills you acquire in your 20s may be different from those that you will need in your 40s.
We will need to assist people through several periods of transition, as established industries are disrupted and as occupations disappear.
This demands the undivided effort of government, business, labour and various structures of civil society.
It demands that we act decisively and that we act with urgency.
Fellow South Africans,
With the introduction of the national minimum wage, we are establishing a firm platform for a social pact on the future of work.
We must sustain the momentum of this moment, not only to address the very pressing economic challenges of the present, but to ready ourselves for the economic opportunities of the near future.
Allow me in conclusion to thank all our partners in NEDLAC, whose hard work breathed life into the national minimum wage.
Most importantly, I want to acknowledge and appreciate the contributions made by South Africans from all walks of life during the extensive consultation on the national minimum wage.
Today, we are fulfilling a promise that was made over 60 years ago by the representatives of our people on this very ground.
Today, we are making a new promise, as the representatives of the social partners, to build a new world of work in which all may realise their potential and none are left behind.
I thank you.