Does the minister of labour and employment mean what he said?

Xolile Mpini

Sat Mar 27 2021 22:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

The Langeberg Unemployed Forum calls for the unemployed to be exempted from labour
laws, including the National Minimum Wage Act. We looked for a solution that would not
cause any harm to people who already have jobs but would allow the unemployed to get
jobs, and found that the only way to make this work is to give the unemployed the right to
decide for themselves what level of wage and working conditions they are prepared to
accept.

The Langeberg Unemployed Forum has been consistent in saying that labour laws and the national minimum wage are not benefiting the unemployed. In fact, they do the exact opposite. Parliament, as the institution that makes the laws, is failing the unemployed in its capacity as the body responsible for bringing out laws and regulations that cause an increase in unemployment.

Do legislators not know that when they increase the costs of the employers they are
destroying jobs?

Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi was quoted by a media outlets as saying: “We are going to be needing a balancing act – how do we ensure that we do not violate the Constitution in terms of the Bill of Rights and the right of everybody to work?”

At least the minister agrees with us that the unemployed have a right to work. However, that right of the unemployed is being violated by both Parliament and the minister, who have passed the National Minimum Wage Act, resulting in the permanent closing of the doors of employment in the face of the unemployed. To make sure of this, a committee has been appointed that seems to have the job of keeping that minimum wage just above what small business and families can afford.

The Langeberg Unemployed Forum has lodged a complaint at the Western Cape office of the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) that our rights to work are being violated by Parliament. We handed over a detailed complaint for it to investigate. Instead, we were referred to the very Parliament which we complained about. They said that if it was Parliament that was the cause of our problems, we must take our complaint to Parliament.

We have always thought that one of the main jobs of the SAHRC is to make sure that the rights of the people are respected by municipal governments, provincial governments and the central government, and to make sure that the laws passed by Parliament agree with the Bill of Rights. However, we have seen that the SAHRC will take quick action when a person calls another a bad name, but will do nothing when told by people speaking for more than 10 million others who are being held back by bad laws.

The commission says: “If you believe that Parliament is taking away your rights, go and speak to Parliament!” Do we, as the unemployed, not have the right to say: “But is that not your job? Are you not supposed to guard the rights of all the people of this country, especially the rights of the unemployed who are among those who suffer the most?”

We take it that the minister understood fully what he was talking about when he mentioned the Bill of Rights and the right to work. He must know that we have a right to question why small businesses and households are being driven to pay higher wages when they themselves are struggling to stay alive.

We want to challenge the minister on what he said with regards to respecting the right to work. As things stand, that right is being trampled on by the national minimum wage. If the minister is truly worried that the minimum wage legislation could be violating the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, he should call for an investigation. But not by the SAHRC because it clearly does not understand the issue.

We believe that we are justified in calling the matter of the unemployment in South Africa
a human rights issue. The minister would be justified in calling for an investigation into unemployment because South Africa has held world-record unemployment for many years now.

The Langeberg Unemployed Forum calls for the unemployed to be exempted from labour laws, including the National Minimum Wage Act. We looked for a solution that would not cause any harm to people who already have jobs but would allow the unemployed to get jobs, and found that the only way to make this work is to give the unemployed the right to decide for themselves what level of wage and working conditions they are prepared to accept.

“Shame!”, some people will say, “you cannot allow people to work for slave wages.” But those same “caring” people will look the other way when people are earning zero. As the great American economist Thomas Sowell pointed out, “the real minimum wage is always zero”.

The Let Me Work campaign is designed to hurt no one and benefit many. Our target is to have conditions where no one who wants to work will be without a job. This might sound impossible, but we have the solution. To achieve this, the following need to be satisfied:

- There must be a Job Seekers Exemption Certificate (JSEC);
- The unemployed person applies for the JSEC and gets it automatically if they have been
unemployed for six months or more;
- Unemployed people who do not want to get the certificate need not apply; and
- There must be a contract between the employer and a JSEC holder, but the decisions
about the items in the contract must be totally in the hands of the JSEC holder. A copy of
the JSEC contract plus the signed employment agreement legalises the terms of the
agreement.

To be exempted from labour laws means that the unemployed will be able to negotiate the basic conditions of employment and wage with the potential employer without any interference from a third party. They can enter into any contract that best suits them. On behalf of all the unemployed people in South Africa, whatever that number might be, we demand that they be given freedom from the chains of unemployment.

Mpini is the chief executive of the Langeberg Unemployed Forum

This article was first publish in City Press - https://www.news24.com/citypress/voices/xolile-mpini-does-the-minister-of-labour-and-employment-mean-what-he-said-20210328