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The Joint Policy Debates on Labour and Tourism Appropriation Bills was held at the National Council of Provinces. In her opening address the Minister of Labour, Ms Mildred Oliphant, said the South African labour laws are catalytic to the realisation of human rights and social justice which are enshrined in the Constitution.

She explained that the 2014 – 2019 Medium Framework of the Department of Labour, has taken into cognisant the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution which will inevitably change the world of work as we know it today. “The challenge is to come up with policies that will lessen the impact of this revolution on our world of work and our people.”

She said she was pleased that President, Cyril Ramaphosa and the Swedish President have been charged with the task to ascertain how countries can respond to the challenges posed by this revolution.

Turning her attention to the much-talked-about Minimum Wage Bill, she said it was meant to give millions of workers a glimmer of hope and to bring to fruition the notion of social and economic justice in our labour market.

This Minimum Wage Bill route was taken instead of Collective Bargaining because of the 16.4 million workers in the country, only five million of them are unionised, she said. “For these workers, there is no union that represents them in the Collective Bargaining. The Minimum Wage Bill seeks to address the plight of these workers.”

She conceded that the minimum wage was not a living wage, but a step in the right direction. “Yes, this agreement may not mean much to those who earn well. But that is not the case to those workers who currently earn below R1 500 a month. To such vulnerable workers, this Bill means a lot to them.”

Counting the successes of the department, Ms Oliphant said her department has, among other things, modernised its services to improve service delivery in its labour centres across the country. “Workers can now register, obtain their letters without having to visit a labour centre.”

According to her, to date the Compensation Fund has dispensed well over R8.3 billion compensations online. In addition to that, the Unemployment Fund can now be accessed online. “Due to our technological innovations, these services can now be accessed without workers’ having to stand in queues.”

In his policy debate the Minister of Tourism, Mr Derek Hanekom, said last year more than 10 million international tourists visited South Africa, and this can be substantially grown if its revised National Tourism Sector Strategy could be implemented. He stipulated its anchors. “It is meant to improve tourism assets and infrastructure; offering excellent service and creating memorable experiences. This also involves the marketing of our destination effectively and making it easier for tourists to come to our country. But most importantly, is aimed at transforming the industry.”

According to him, the department has four incentive programmes to advance transformation. These include: “The Market Access Support Programme, which helps small businesses to exhibit at various local and international trade shows, like our own Indaba. The Tourism Grading Support Programme, assisting establishments to enjoy the benefits of being graded. The Green Tourism Incentive Programme, which promotes the conversion to clean and renewable energy and reduces operational costs; and the Tourism Transformation Fund, which was launched last month to help black businesses to start up or expand.”

The Chairperson of Select Committee on Trade and International Relations, Mr Edwin Makue, said an active labour policy was needed to absorb that the large number of South African youth into the world of labour. “These can be achieved if we can increase economic exports, exploit the opportunities presented by our agriculture, oceans economy and our business sector.”

In addition to that, we need to produce skills that are required in our labour market, he said. “These skills will enable our youth to gain employment and to be in a position to start their own businesses.”

Much of this can be achieved through the Memorandum of Understanding facilitated by the Department of Labour between Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges and the business sector, he said.

Mr Leon Magwebu commended the entities of the Department of Labour such as CCMA (Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration) and Labour Court for their good management and financial standing, but he singled out the Compensation Fund as the one still faced with mount financial and management challenges. “The Compensation Fund is in shambles. It appeared before our select committee and it appeared that it achieved only 50% of its performance plan in the last financial year.”

He told Members of the NCOP that as recently as March 2017, the Fund’s Audit Plan was not yet approved. “As such, it was unable to meet its targets and to reach its investment targets.”

Is the fund in good hands, he asked: “It’s management is weak. And it has had three disclaimers in previous financial years. This makes the fund vulnerable to fraud and corruption.”

But despite its overall performance deficiencies, the fund paid bonuses to its staff amounting to R5 million. “In the interest of good governance, in the light of these wrongdoings, we don’t support this budget.”

The representative of the South African Local Government Association (Salga), Councillor Gillion Bosman, stated that they recognised the tourism sector’s active role in instigating the economic potential of many municipalities. “Tourism remains a key economic sector for the previously disadvantaged enterprises that are often excluded from the mainstream economy.”

Currently, it outperforms other traditional sectors of our economy in creating job opportunities, he said. “Currently, tourism employs about 1.6 million people and this has activated the economic potential of many municipalities in the country.”