Parliament to correct minimum wage act … two weeks after it became law

16 January 2019 - 16:11 By Andisiwe Makinana
Parliament will make changes to the new National Minimum Wage Act, it was announced on Wednesday.
Parliament will make changes to the new National Minimum Wage Act, it was announced on Wednesday.
Image: zerbor / 123RF Stock Photo

Parliament is amending the national minimum wage law just two weeks after the groundbreaking legislation — which provides for ordinary workers to be paid at least R20 an hour — came into effect.

It emerged at a special meeting of the labour portfolio committee on Wednesday that in the rush to pass the bill under tight deadlines last year, an error backdating the implementation of the bill to May 2017 slipped through the cracks during the processing of the proposed law in parliament.

The committee resolved on Wednesday to bring its own bill which would amend the cross-referencing error in the National Minimum Wage Act, which was signed by President Cyril Ramaphosa last month. It came into effect on January 1.

The amendment will not affect the implementation of the law and MPs were at pains to stress that the law was in full effect — so employers had to comply with it.

The "mishap", as described by committee chairperson Lemias Mashile, was around a section of the new bill which protects workers from employers who tried to get around the new law ahead of its implementation. The section was not promulgated with the bill.

The amendment makes it an unfair labour practice for employers to unilaterally change working conditions ahead of the implementation of the act. As it stands, the section says the national minimum wage is retrospective to May 2017, which means that had the section been promulgated with the rest of the bill, everyone who was getting less than R20 an hour could claim back pay to May 2017.

DA MP Michael Bagraim, who alerted the committee to the error late last year, expressed his unhappiness on Wednesday that he was ignored when he raised the matter at the time. He revealed that he later wrote to the presidency requesting the president not to promulgate the section otherwise “we were going to have unions issuing summonses for back pay, because it would have been law”.

Bagraim also lamented the money spent to convene Wednesday's meeting including travel costs for MPs and department of labour officials who flew in for the special meeting. He said the matter could have been resolved last year when he spotted it but his concerns were ignored.

Mashile claimed they did not act at the time because “work done in parliament is not done abruptly just because someone else has a feeling that something must happen”.

He said certain processes had to be followed.

A parliamentary legal adviser suggested that for a quicker legislative process, the committee should rather introduce the amendment bill instead of waiting for the minister of labour to do so. This would also ensure the portfolio committee has complete control of the process.