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Decent work is the foundation of the fight against poverty and inequality, and its promotion should be the cornerstone of all efforts to create jobs, said the acting Chairperson of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Labour, Ms Sharome van Schalkwyk.

Speaking during a mini-plenary of the National Assembly to debate the Department of Labour’s budget vote, she said decent work embraces both the need for more jobs and better-quality jobs.

“No one disputes that a lasting victory over poverty and hunger requires the creation of decent work opportunities and sustainable livelihoods for all our people. The creation of decent work and sustainable livelihoods remains at the core of the ANC government’s agenda. The task of addressing joblessness, poverty and inequality is a responsibility for all of us and not just one social partner,” she said.

Ms Van Schalkwyk added that in order to deal with unemployment, South Africa will require an “all-hands-on-deck” approach, based on strong partnerships. “The National Development Plan calls for a social compact to reduce poverty and inequality, and to raise employment and investment levels.”

The Minister of Labour, Ms Mildred Oliphant, told the mini-plenary that in the current financial year the department and it entities received R3.2 billion. On enhancing employment opportunities, the minister said the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) will continue to work with the Department of Higher Education and Training and with Public Works on the Extended Public Works programme exit plans and technical vocational education and training colleges on up-scaling UIF benefits.

She also used the opportunity to explain the benefits of the proposed national minimum wage, saying it will make a huge difference for the majority of vulnerable workers. “Whilst the introduction of the national minimum wage may not mean a lot to those who are well looked after in the world of work, for the majority of the vulnerable, it will make a huge difference.”

She said setting the inaugural level at R20 per hour was informed by research and robust analysis of various scenarios and their possible ramifications. “The national minimum wage is by no means an end in itself, but a means to an end,” the minister said.

Democratic Alliance Member of Parliament Mr Michael Bagraim was not convinced that the national minimum wage was the right approach to creating decent work. “We have almost 9.2 million unemployed South Africans and we are on the cusp of losing a further million jobs on the forthcoming introduction of a national minimum wage,” he said.

He also blamed unemployment, increased crime and poverty on the “failure of our government to create jobs and the labour regulatory authority applying the handbrake to employment”.

The Economic Freedom Fighters’ Ms Nontando Noluntshungu said her party welcomed the national minimum wage in principle, but not the R20 per hour rate proposed, calling it “nothing but an extension of the EPWP that will trap workers in low wages for the rest of their working life, while companies and bosses live lavishly out of profits”.

Mr Xolani Ngwezi of the Inkatha Freedom Party said the government’s proposal of a minimum wage of R20 an hour is not a living wage. It is far below the daily expenses of many workers, especially if you include transport to and from work and daily subsistence needs.

He also said the lingering joblessness and the high rate of youth unemployment has not been met with the responsiveness that is required from government. It is high time that something effective is implemented, he urged.

Sakhile Mokoena

15 May 2018