Labour Wrap: Fuel for the fires of discontent?

THE introduction in March next year of a national minimum wage of R3 500 may fuel the fires of discontent, says Terry Bell in his latest Labour Wrap. He points out that it is now estimated to require on average R6 000 a month to provide adequately for a family of four.

He also feels we may have become inured to examples of economic pain since there was “hardly a whisper” of comment when fuel prices rose again last week. This, he maintains, will adversely affect every wage earner and increase the desperation among the unemployed.

He points out that fuel price rises feed through fairly rapidly into the wider economy - and no more so than with taxis, the major form of commuter transport. And, as commuters often complain, once these fares go up, they seldom, if ever, come down.

The prices of food and other goods are also affected because of the fuel used for transport. In all cases, it is the consumer - whether employed or unemployed - who ultimately pays.

This, in a society of disproportionate wealth and widespread corruption where, for example, a worker doing the dirty, smelly and essential work of rubbish collection earns a median wage of R72 000 a year while a councillor is paid at least R450 000 a year. Here, Bell says, is an example of economic desperation that has led to bloodshed.

Against this background, it should be clear why the labour movement’s fight for decent work and a living wage should be supported.  It should also be obvious that the argument that any job is better than no job is nonsense.

For his Inside Labour column Bell this week intends to highlight the minimum - usually the actual - pay of those who labour in the domestic, farm, forestry and hospitality sectors who are fortunate enough to have permanent, full-time jobs.

These are decided by the minister of labour, and Bell regards them all as poverty wages.