We have been consistent in saying that labour laws and the National Minimum Wage (NMW) are not benefitting the unemployed. In fact, they do the exact opposite.
Parliament, as the institution that makes the laws, is failing the unemployed as it is the responsible body that brings out laws and regulations that cause an increase in unemployment.
Do they not know that when they increase the costs of the employers, they are destroying jobs?
The Minister of Employment and Labour, Mr. Thulas Nxesi, was quoted in one of the 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?‘
The unemployed have a right to work
At least the Minister agrees with us that the unemployed have a right to work. However, that ‘right to work’ of the unemployed is being violated by both the Parliament and the Minister. They have passed a law (National Minimum Wage Act) and this law has closed the doors of employment permanently in the face of the unemployed.
To make sure, a committee has been appointed that seems to us to have the job of keeping that minimum wage just above what small business and families can afford.
We have lodged a complaint at the Western Cape office of the South African Human Rights Commission, that our rights to work are being violated by Parliament with the laws they pass to make us unemployed.
We handed over a detailed complaint for them to investigate. Instead, they referred us to the very Parliament whom 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 Human Rights Commission is to make sure that the rights of the people are respected by the municipal governments, the provincial governments, and the central government. And that they must make sure that the laws that are passed by Parliament agree with the Bill of Rights.
We have seen that the Human Rights Commission will take quick action when someone calls another person a bad name, they take immediate action. But if they are told by people speaking for more than 10 million people who are blocked by bad laws, they do nothing.
They say, ‘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, but especially the rights of the unemployed who are among those who suffer the most?‘
Issues with the NMW
We will 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 of all kinds, and households, are being driven to pay higher wages when they are in a terrible struggle just to stay alive.
We want to challenge the Minister on what he said with regards to respecting the right to work. As things stand now, the right to work is being trampled on by the National Minimum Wage, this policy that closed the doors of employment opportunities permanently in the faces of many of the unemployed.
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 Human Rights Commission, because they clearly do not understand the issue.
Our members believe that they are justified in calling the matter of the huge level of unemployment in South Africa, a human rights issue. The Minister would be justified in calling for an investigation into the level of unemployment. SA has held a held a world record in unemployment for many years now.
Exemption from labour laws
We are calling for the unemployed to be exempted from labour laws, including the NMW. 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.
The only way to make this work is to give the unemployed the right to decide for themselves what level of wages 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 shut their eyes or look the other way when people are earning zero! Because, as the great American economist Thomas Sowell pointed out, the real minimum wage is zero!
Our 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 solutions:
- There must be what we call a Job Seekers Exemption Certificate (JSEC)
- The unemployed person applies for it and gets it automatically if they have been unemployed for six months or more.
- Unemployed people who do not want it, need not apply.
- 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 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 any 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.