South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa said Friday that a landmark minimum wage bill to bridge the country’s notorious inequality will become law from January 1 as he eyes elections due in 2019.
The bill legislates that the lowest paid workers receive a minimum of 20 rand ($1.42) per hour.
“This is a great achievement for the working people of South Africa, who have had to endure generations of exploitation,” Ramaphosa said at a signing ceremony in Johannesburg.
The unprecedented piece of legislation is expected to improve the wages and livelihoods of an estimated six million South Africans currently earning less than the new minimum.
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) party will hope that the move, along with recent decisions to lower taxes on key food staples, will appeal to its traditional electoral base-poor township and rural voters.
Support for the ruling party dipped during the rule of scandal-marred ex-president Jacob Zuma which saw it lose control of the economic hub Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria in municipal polls two years ago.
“In this sense, the national minimum wage represents the triumph of cooperation over conflict, of negotiation over confrontation,” said Ramaphosa.
The bill establishes exemptions for employers who cannot afford the new rate.
It faced fierce criticism from the political opposition and some labour unions while it was being debated in parliament.
The Democratic Alliance (DA), the main opposition party, voted against the bill saying it had “not been subjected to proper public consultation and will push hundreds of thousands of people into unemployment”.
The leftist Economic Freedom Fighters, led by the firebrand Julius Malema, also rejected the bill which will see workers earn a minimum 3,500 rand ($250) per month.
The second largest labour federation the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) has labelled it a “slave wage”, demanding instead a monthly minimum wage of 12,500 rands ($890).
“The national minimum wage takes effect in the 25th year of our democracy — a quarter century in which the rights of workers have been progressively enhanced and entrenched,” said Ramaphosa.