Cyril Ramaphosa
Cyril Ramaphosa

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa pledged on Tuesday to increase the national minimum wage (NMW) over time in a way that meaningfully reduces poverty and inequality.

The NMW will start at a level of 20 rand (about 1.7 U.S. dollars) an hour, which will increase the income of over 6 million working people, while also ensuring that there is minimal negative impact on job creation, Ramaphosa told thousands of people gathering at an event in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape Province, to mark the International Labor Day.

Ramaphosa took the opportunity to defend the NMW, which has come under fire for being a slave wage.

Last week, massive protests against the NMW took place across the country. Trade unions threaten to stage more protests if the NMW is not raised to “a living wage.”

The NMW will take effect after Parliament finalizes the legal process for its implementation.

“Within the next few months, workers are going to achieve another historic victory with the introduction of a national minimum wage for all working South Africans,” Ramaphosa said.

This would be a victory for the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) in particular, which has been fighting for a national minimum wage since its formation.

The May Day rally was organized by COSATU.

All social partners had worked hard for nearly three years to reach agreement on the NMW to improve the conditions of millions of poor families, Ramaphosa said.

The social partners agreed to begin at this level because it will make a significant difference immediately, but will also allow South Africa to measure its effect on the economy, the president said.

“All social partners recognize that at its introduction, the national minimum wage will be less than what we consider to be a living wage.

“The social partners also agree that it must be our firm determination to move as quickly as possible to a living wage,” he said.

To do this, South Africans need to grow their economy, improve levels of productivity, develop the skills of the workforce and create jobs on a far greater scale, said Ramaphosa.

The government is pushing the NMW, which is 3,500 rand (about 292 dollars) per month or 20 rand (about 1.7 dollars) per hour.

But opponents say the NMW is a slave wage that cannot make both ends meet for the working class. Enditem

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