This follows a legal challenge by a group of factory owners and the United Clothing and Textile Association who applied in the Pietermaritzburg High Court requesting it to set aside the minimum wages set by the bargaining council.
The court ruled that factories which were not members of the council could hold separate talks about pay levels with their workers. The decision of the minister not to challenge this ruling is troubling and absurd. It is tantamount to negligence because those workers are being left on their own devices. The department of Labour has got a responsibility to protect all employees at all times.
All companies should be forced to comply with the minimum wages set out in the bargaining council agreements. It is unacceptable that there are companies who want to continue to pay poverty wages to the workers and they are allowed by the department to use the courts to circumvent acceptable norms and standards.
The department should ensure that sectoral minimum wage agreements are enforced to guarantee that those who are at the bottom end of the economic pyramid benefits and the promise of a better life for all is realised.
It is disconcerting to see the onslaught against the Labour Relations Act as evidenced by a proposed court application by the Free Market foundation that wants to challenge the constitutionality of the extension of collective agreements. This offensive against the rights of the workers will result in the erosion of worker’s rights and the department of labour has a responsibility to ensure that workers are protected against all forms of exploitation.
All of us have a responsibility to protect decent work and also ensure that current collective bargaining arrangements are protected because workers died for these rights. We should learn from the catastrophe that played out in Marikana and De Doorns.
We condemn all those who are trying in different ways to unbundle centralised collective bargaining. The recent Cosatu bargaining conference agreed that we will campaign for regulated wall-to-wall centralised collective bargaining systems and this court ruling flies in the face of that struggle. We demand a proactive worker biased Department of Labour.
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