Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the R20 per hour minimum wage agreement between labour, business and government on Tuesday.

Signing the agreement on Tuesday were (left to right) National Council of Trade Unions President Joseph Maqhekeni, Fedusa president Godfrey Selematsela, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant.

That is according to Dennis George, general secretary of the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) on Wednesday.

But Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa declined to confirm the signing late last night. “Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa will provide details on the status of discussions of (National Economic Development and Labour Council) Nedlac committee of principals on labour relations and wage inequality tomorrow (Wednesday),”

The signing was supposed to have taken place at Tuesday’s InvestSA lunch that President Jacob Zuma hosted in Cape Town ahead of his State of the Nation address (Sona) on Thursday.

However, the Presidency announced on Tuesday that it was postponing the signing due to Cosatu’s request to delay the agreement until its central executive committee (CEC) could review the new proposal.

However, George said Cosatu was not able to stop the signing. “Our friends from Cosatu think they can stop the process,” he said. “Cosatu said they were in agreement and that all they want to do is speak to their CEC. They must tell us when they are ready to sign.”

“This agreement kicks in from May 2018,” he said. “After this, we need to draft legislation and that must go through a public consultation process.

“There were concerns around the R20 per hour salary as employers could try reduce hours,” he said. “But we will put in a law that workers cannot be worse off.”

He said Zuma will spell out the details of the agreement in his Sona.

The deal follows Ramaphosa’s proposal of a R3 500 national minimum wage. He has been heading up the negotiations with Nedlac.

He explained that the panel considered the low level of growth in the South African economy, but also looked at South Africa’s peers, such as Brazil, Turkey and Mexico and how a minimum wage has affected them.

Ramaphosa argued that a minimum wage will be a radical shift to address wage inequality. About 47% of South Africans earn below R3 500, while 51% live on less than R1 600 per month, he said at the time.

However, there has been widespread criticism of a minimum wage of R3 500, with political parties and labour unions referring to it as “slave wages” and “poverty wages”. They are demanding a “living wage” for workers.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) said on Tuesday the African National Congress failed to implement its policy to radically transform the economy. “It is ridiculous,” said spokesperson Sizwe Pamla.

“We made it very clear that the minimum wage is not just about having a wage,” he told Fin24. “It’s about having one that makes a difference to South African lives.”

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) said paying workers R20 per hour is an insult.

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim also climbed into Ramaphosa, claiming that he has proven to be “hostile” to workers.

“Ramaphosa, the billionaire and ultra-capitalist, values his precious buffalo more than the lives of human beings.