Minimum Wage and the Stingy South African Employer

Should the proposed National Minimum Wage of R20 an hour (R3500 per month) be implemented, around 6.6 million people will benefit.

We should take a moment and allow that to settle in our souls; an estimated 6.6 million people earn less than R20 an hour. R160 per day. And get this, I know people who know people who are paying R11 an hour with no contribution to transport. R88 per day with up to half of that lost to transport. R44 a day. Most of these people are domestic workers who care for our children, our elderly and our homes. We entrust our loved ones and our most valuable assets to people we pay somewhere between R50 and R120 per day. There are a few unavoidable consequences when people are impoverished and demeaned in this way. Here are a few of them – I am sure you will think of some more:
  1. People live with unimaginably high levels of stress
  2. People resort to debt simply to live
  3. People steal and engage in other criminal behaviours to survive
  4. People may turn to alcohol and abuse of other substances as hopelessness sets in and they lose the ability to dream.
  5. Loyalty and work ethic often diminish
  6. Anger and resentment build
And yet I know people who know people who are resisting paying their staff well despite all this. And we must remember that the word ‘minimum’ is just that; a minimum. We should be striving to pay significantly above this. When The Peace Agency began the first Baby Home in Durban, South Africa we resolved that one of our key objectives as an NGO was to pay our team of staff a poverty-busting wage. One year, we doubled each staff member’s salary and from then on, everyone received at least one, sometimes two significant increases a year. Everyone always gets a 13th cheque. Yes, this means that as an NGO we can “do less” in terms of babies. But the reality is that we are caring for more people. As a team, everyone feels dignified and empowered. This dignity and empowerment – not to mention resources – is then imparted outside of the workplace in our families and communities.  Not only that, but because we are well cared for as a team, we can care well for the babies in return. People want to work at the Durban North Baby Home. If we cannot afford to pay at least the minimum wage, then we cannot afford to start companies or NGO’s, and we cannot afford domestic staff. Poorly paid work is not better than no work at all as it destroys people’s humanity and hence the very fabric of society.