THE Department of Trade and Industry is soon to publish a summary of company reports under the new EEC Code of Conduct for Companies with Interests in South Africa.
The Code, which was agreed by EEC Foreign Ministers in 1985, sets a minimum wage standard but a new version of the Code is implemented for the first time this year and the minimum standard has been reduced, making it easier for companies to meet the requirements.
Moreover, companies are not obliged to make public their wage levels, so the expected drop in the numbers who work far below the minimum level may not reflect an improvement in conditions.
Peter Webster, Executive Secretary of the Ethical Investment Research and Information Service, told the Catholic Herald: "The Code is voluntary, there are no sanctions for non-compliance. It isn't difficult for a company to make it look like it's meeting the requirements."
Under the previous regulations, the minimum wage was reckoned at about subsistence plus 50 per cent, but now the figure is set at subsistence plus 30 per cent.
EIRIS also outlines other ways in which companies can dodge scrutiny, most easily by ignoring requests for information. Consolidated Goldfields, for example, employs approximately the same number of workers as all of the other companies put together (about 80,000), but simply does: not provide wage figures.
Reports suggest that the wages for Consolidated Goldfields may be less than half of the minimum requirement.
Other companies may have reduced their workforce, so cutting the numbers of those they pay below the standard, and many companies deduct costs such as food and housing from wages, in "payment-inkind" schemes. How much they deduct is often a bone of contention.
The full report is due to be presented to the EEC parliament in the summer but there has been no substantial increase in wage levels over the last year.