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What youth think about a national minimum wage

The average wage earned by working people in the sample was R2 000 to R2 500 – Zoheb Kahn – researcher, UJ.

SIKI MGABADELI:  The Centre for Social Development in Africa at the University of Johannesburg conducted some extensive focus-group discussions with young people aged between 18 and 25 in urban and rural areas in five provinces, talking about the national minimum wage and their wage expectations. They are sharing their findings with us this evening.

Zoheb Kahn is a researcher with the centre at the University of Johannesburg and joins us now. Zoheb, thanks so much for your time today. You focus specifically on young people and their thinking on minimum wages. Is this  demographic that’s been ignored in this debate?

ZOHEB KAHN:  Good evening, and thanks for having me on the show. Yes, we do think that so far this is a group that hasn’t been adequately consulted about the national minimum wage, and we don’t think enough thought has been given to how it might impact their labour market outcomes.

SIKI MGABADELI:  Okay, what did they say? I’m very curious.

ZOHEB KAHN:  Our research had three main aims. We wanted to look at the working conditions of young South Africans, their knowledge, the current system of collective bargaining and sectoral determination, and then their opinions on the introduction of this new national minimum wage system.

In terms of their knowledge of the current system, we found it was generally speaking quite limited. So young people lack knowledge of minimum wages in general, but also the specifics of the current system. Because of that we’ve often found that workers who may have been entitled to a minimum wage didn’t know about it and were being underpaid as a result.

SIKI MGABADELI:  How badly underpaid? When you look at what the courts, the labour force survey from StatsSA tell us, how far from that – I think it was R2 500 if I’m not mistaken – how far from that would you say the average is at the moment?

ZOHEB KAHN:  The average wages earned by working people in our sample was in the region of R2 000 to R2 500. For a lot of these workers they simply aren’t covered by any kind of minimum wage legislation now because they just work in jobs that aren’t in sectors where we have minimum wage legislation. But of course there are workers who do qualify and are being underpaid, and in some cases quite significantly.

SIKI MGABADELI:  Do they want a national minimum wage to be introduced? What do they think about that?

ZOHEB KAHN:  It was complicated. One the one hand we have the general idea among young people is it’s a good idea to introduce the national minimum wage for reasons of simplicity and also because they feel that it could guarantee wages and improve their earnings. But at the same time there was a widespread concern that employers wouldn’t comply with a national minimum wage because for many young people they already have the experience of employers not paying them the minimum wages that they are currently entitled to.

SIKI MGABADELI:  Unfortunately we are out if time, Thanks for your time today, Zoheb Kahn.

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