Saturday, March 15, 2008

Reconcile wages, basic needs basket

Reconcile wages, basic needs basket
By Editor
Saturday March 15, 2008 [03:00]

All our workers have a right to receive a just wage. All employers should give their employees an honest wage or salary and then ask them for more substantial support. Remuneration for work should guarantee people a dignified livelihood for themselves and their families. And the government should regulate industries and commerce to protect workers’ rights and to curb exploitation.

The current minimum wage of K268,000 per month needs urgent upward revision. This minimum wage was considered too low even when it was enacted into law over two years ago. Even at that time, it was still far below the cost of living or the basic needs basket for a family which at that time was just over a million kwacha.

Currently, the basic needs basket for a family of six stands at K1,870,650. Clearly, there is no way K268,000 can guarantee a worker a dignified livelihood for himself or herself and his or her family. Government needs to increase the minimum wage to at least K1,900,000.

We know that this suggestion will be denounced by many businesses as ridiculously too high. There is no way we can expect them to accept this when just two years ago they vigorously opposed the K268,000 minimum wage as being too high. And most of them said they didn’t want a minimum wage at all. But imagine what the situation would be like if the government never came up with a minimum wage at all.

It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that workers receive a fair and just wage and their survival is not left totally to the whims of market forces, of demand and supply. We say this because wages or salaries, or indeed labour in general, are not like any other service or commodity one buys from the market.

With labour we are talking about the dignity of human beings. It shouldn’t be forgotten that people’s work concerns not only money in the form of wages or salaries but also, and especially, personal values. Work is rooted in respect for human dignity.

Employees have a strict duty to give their employers efficient and conscientious work for which they have a right to a just wage or salary. Work provides an opportunity for each of us to show that we are images of God. We say this because God is our creator and we, every woman and man, show forth God’s image when we continue creation through our work, our labour, our engagement in shaping our Zambia of the future.

For this reason, the dignity of work must be recognised with just wages or salaries and other conditions of service. And for this reason, we should condemn all forms of business that place profit before persons and are totally based on the maximum or unbridled exploitation of one by another. And we shouldn’t forget that it is by means of work and making use of intelligence that people are able to make the earth a befitting home. Therefore, every effort that enables workers to improve their conditions should be valued and promoted by everybody in society.

There is need for the government to set a reasonable minimum wage, because if a ridiculously low figure is enacted as a minimum wage that will be what will be paid by most employers. If this figure is low, there is little much one can say because the employers will be acting within the law.

If the minimum wage is K268,000, the employers will pay the worker K300,000 which they will justify as being far above the minimum wage set by government.

But we know that K268,000 is ridiculous as a minimum wage. And the leaders of our government, including our legislators, know very well that it is absolutely ridiculous to pay a worker K268,000 in Lusaka but they still went ahead and legislated for that.

Probably this was in the hope that employers have a moral obligation to pay more than the minimum wage, to pay a just wage, but as we know it, capital is not driven by morality, fairness or justice.

It is propelled and motivated by profits. Capital doesn’t see the fact that the dignity of work must be recognised with just wages. Capital is not here to promote just employment policies but to extract maximum profits. It has no problems with placing profits before persons because it primarily profits from exploitation of the worker. We have seen this from how businesses have taken advantage of the minimum wage requirement to pay their workers very poor wages.

There are businesses that pay their workers exactly or just above the minimum wage requirement of K268,000. And this is with their full knowledge of the fact that the basic needs basket is way beyond K1 million. They don’t even care to ask themselves what an individual with a family of five can do with K268,000 per month.

They don’t bother to ask themselves how an employee getting a wage of K268,000 per month can be expected to not only buy food but also to pay for his transport to and from work, pay children’s school fees and pay for other services needed for one to function.

It is clear that left on their own, most employers will not bother about paying workers a just wage. And this is why the government should come in and legislate for a just wage to protect those who have to sell their labour to earn a living.

We hope that this time the government will reconcile the minimum wage to the cost of living. The minimum wage should enable a worker to meet the basic needs basket. It is the responsibility of the government to protect our workers from exploitation. After all, it is these workers and their families that voted them into office and not capital.



At 6:37 AM , Blogger MrK said...

If the MMD is really serious about seeing the country benefit from FDI, the only thing they need to do is to set the minimum wage really high.

Two quotes:

If your boss is paying you minimum wage, he is saying 'I would pay you less if I could'.

-- Chris Rock

"Servers, labourers, and workmen of different kinds make up the far greater part of every great political society. But what improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconveniency to the whole. No society can be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed cloath, and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed, and lodged."

-- Adam Smith

At 6:53 AM , Blogger MrK said...

It is propelled and motivated by profits. Capital doesn’t see the fact that the dignity of work must be recognised with just wages. Capital is not here to promote just employment policies but to extract maximum profits.

For it's shareholders. What if labour owned the majority of the shares, and dividends were paid out to them to supplement their wages?

Or, what if a standards percentage of the profits were paid out as wages?

And another thing. More even than recognizing the dignity of labour with just wages - markets for consumer products are created, the more consumers have money to spend. In fact, one of the main schools of economic thought intends to stimulate the economy by doing just that - demand side economics.


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