While a controversial South African minimum wage is set to launch in May 2018, some sectors in South Africa have already set their own wage levels.
In May 2018, the South African government intends to introduce a minimum wage of R3,500 per month, as it aims to increase the salaries of 6.6 million workers who currently earn very low wages. The agreement has been met with significant opposition – and as of April 2018, the process is currently delayed in parliament amid public protests.
Imposing a minimum wage has long been a hot topic in South Africa, where unemployment rates reached 26.7% in 2017.
There are two key areas of opposition to the introduction of the wage in South Africa: those who believe it doesn’t go far enough to provide a better income for workers, and others who think a minimum wage will actually increase unemployment levels.
Should it pass through parliament, the South African minimum wage will come into force from 1 May 2018. The wage will be set at R20 per hour, which translates to around R3,500 per month based on a 40-hour week, or R3,900 per month for those working a 45-hour week. Levels will be reviewed on an annual basis by a special commission.
The government hopes the new minimum wage will offer respite for the 6.6 million workers in South Africa who currently earn very low salaries.
The new wage has been met with fierce protests, although the government admits it doesn’t classify a ‘living wage’. In April, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) held a nationwide strike against the new regulations, describing the minimum wage as a ‘slave wage’.
The new wage won’t be phased in for everyone straight away, with farmers and domestic workers seeing a longer run-up to implementation.
Some employment sectors currently set their own minimum wages, although how it works can be quite complicated.
These sectoral minimum wages are designed to help vulnerable, low-paid workers, and are generally set through collective bargaining in private sector councils, or by direct regulation from the government following the Labour Relations Act and Basic Conditions of Employment Act.
Recent figures from private economic research organization Economists.co.za show that nearly 84.5% of South African workers earn a regular wage or salary. The minimum wages within the private sector, which are set by private sector councils, vary widely with those working in lower paid industries such as cosmetology and hairdressing receiving between R1,809–4,749, while those employed in the metal and engineering sector get paid between R3,992–12,687 per month.
The government also sets its own sectoral wage rates for specific industries. The rates, however, are slightly lower than those mandated by the private sector councils. When setting minimum wages in individual sectors, the Minister of Labour seeks advice from the Employment Conditions Commission. This is to ensure that the Basic Conditions of Employment Act are met, and that businesses will be able to afford to operate if they have to pay a minimum wage.
Some of the sectors that have set sectoral wages include the following: domestic work/contract cleaning, private security, forestry, wholesale and retail, hospitality, agriculture, taxi, learnership (a special form of apprenticeship), hospitality, metal and engineering, pharmaceuticals and petroleum industries.
South African minimum wage by sector
For industries that operate a minimum wage, the level employers are required to pay varies significantly depending on role and geographic location.
While some industries split South Africa into two or three pay zones when setting their minimum wage, others use as many as seven or eight areas, which can cause confusion.
To add another layer of complexity, different rules apply in some sectors depending on whether staff work more than 27 hours per week.
You can find the most up-to-date minimum wage information for specific sectors and areas of South Africa on the MyWage website.
Farmers and domestic workers will have to wait a little longer to be offered the new minimum wage, according to the South African government.
Workers in the farm and forestry sector will initially be entitled to 90% of the new minimum wage – R18 an hour – while domestic workers will receive 75%, or around R15 an hour.
Domestic workers in South Africa currently account for around 8 percent of the overall workforce.
Sector-specific minimum wages for South African also apply to foreign workers, and the new national minimum wage will also apply to both South African nationals and foreign employees, if the government successfully brings it in.
Labour laws, however, will remain the same. This means if a South African company wants to employ a foreign national, they’ll first need to secure a work permit.
Read Expatica’s guide for more information on how to get a South African work visa.
Pay in South Africa is regulated by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. This act allows employers to calculate and pay wages using an hourly, daily, weekly or monthly system.
While employers can choose their preferred pay period, they must pay staff in South African rand within seven days of this period ending.
According to the rules, domestic workers who are paid on a daily basis should receive their money either during working hours or within 15 minutes of their shift ending.
While South African rules allow employers to pay their staff by cash or cheque, they are obliged to provide pay slips, which must include their name and address, details of the pay per period, any deductions, and (if applicable), the rate of pay for overtime.
You can find further information about worker rights in South Africa on the Department for Labour website.
Compare the minimum wage in South Africa to other countries
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) provides an overview of statistics and comparative charts on minimum wages, but you can also find out about minimum wages in our guides below:
- Belgian minimum wage
- Dutch minimum wage
- French minimum wage
- Minimum wage in Germany
- Minimum wage in Luxembourg
- Minimum wage in Portugal
- Minimum wage in Russia
- The minimum wage in Spain
- Swiss minimum wage
- UK minimum wage
Click to the top of our guide to South African minimum wage.