The Effects of the South African Minimum Wage on Labour Market Outcomes for Low-Income Earners

Master project by Samuel Jones, Annanya Mahajan, Maria Oliva, Debora Reyna, Marta Vila

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series showcasing Barcelona GSE master projects by students in the Class of 2018. The project is a required component of every master program.


Samuel Jones, Annanya Mahajan, Maria Oliva, Debora Reyna, Marta Vila

Master’s Program:

International Trade, Finance, and Development Program

Paper Abstract:

We capitalise on the 2006 implementation of a minimum wage for the hospitality sector to make well-evidenced inferences about the impact of the upcoming National Minimum Wage (NMW) Legislation on low-wage workers. Our paper focuses on the two largest low-wage sectors currently without minimum wage regulation, which are manufacturing and construction. Two regression specifications and sensitivity analysis are used to provide insights into the implication for wages, hours worked, employment, formality and poverty rates. In light of our results and a comprehensive review of the literature, we conclude that the NMW will be largely beneficial for low-wage labourers. Our critical recommendation for policymakers is the need for complementary policies to ensure compliance and facilitate the transition of vulnerable groups (particularly black women) into the formal sector.

Conclusions and key results:

From our first specification, our analysis suggests that wages and hours worked will increase in manufacturing and construction sectors as a result of the minimum wage, mostly driven by increases for black and female workers. Although the policy is likely to increase the formality rate among male workers, we predict formality will fall among females as employers try to circumvent the legislation. Therefore it is crucial that adequate complementary policies are implemented to ensure the benefits are captured by all population groups. Our second specification exploits the variation in the median wage across provinces. In doing so, we find no significant effect on wages, which signals regional impacts of the minimum wage are fairly homogeneous. Therefore, compared to other countries adopting a similar policy, the implementation of safety-nets combating the adverse effects of the minimum wage will be relatively more straightforward. By conducting sensitivity analysis around compliance rates and poverty lines already stipulated in the literature, we predict between 100,000 and 300,000 manufacturing and construction workers will be lifted out of wage poverty as a result of the minimum wage. We combine our empirical partial equilibrium analysis with theoretical general equilibrium forces to provide statements on the anticipated lower bound of wage changes.

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