Adam Habib argues Mike Schüssler has deliberately manipulated the debate.
In his recent contribution to Moneyweb, entitled SA’s poor list: SA employers earn less than cleaners, Mike Schüssler is being disingenuous at best and he probably knows it.
He accuses analysts of “bloated opinions”, but he deliberately manipulates this debate, creates a straw figure, shoots it down, and then proceeds to praise himself for providing empirical evidence in the public domain.
It is this kind of debating style that polarises the public discourse and society, and makes a national consensus impossible to achieve. The debate has never been about employers and employees. It has always been about enrichment versus empowerment, and I and many others, have publicly criticised enrichment (as opposed to empowerment) wherever it surfaced including in government and in the corporate sector.
Let me demonstrate how bizarre Mike’s argument really is. For Mike the 70-year-old women in the informal economy selling bananas in the street corner (earning a R1 000 per month) is seen to be of equivalent status to Remgro’s Johann Rupert.
And the CEO of Shoprite Checkers, Whitey Basson, is seen as equivalent to one of his employees, irrespective of the fact that this same CEO earned R627.6m this past year.
And on the basis of this logic, analysts are asked not to criticise crass enrichment in our society because of the fear that it constitutes an attack on beleaguered employers.
What kind of nonsense is this?
The sleight of hand Mike uses is to suggest that critics associate enrichment simply with employers whatever their level in the economic hierarchy. This is just not true.
Let me provide my own examples.
I have criticised cabinet ministers when they pulled out expensive cars on getting into office as an example of crass enrichment. I criticised CEOs in parastatals of enrichment even though I was aware that they did not own the enterprise.
Similarly I have criticised some CEOs of private companies of enrichment, and I have criticised those employers who it pertained to. The critique was always against enrichment by whomever it applied to.
I have never accused the small employer who earns R12 000 of enrichment. And neither have many of the other critics who have condemned the crass enrichment in our society.
So why then does Mike manipulate this debate? Perhaps the answer is that it is an easy way to defend crass enrichment. Obfuscate the argument, caricature your opponents, and pretend to care for the poor bloke on the street.
The real interest defended behind all of this rhetoric is the crass enrichment of the already wealthy.
If this is not true, why is it that wage demands of unions are always condemned, but the remuneration packages of the executives of the top 40 companies on the JSE, which are about two and a half times those of the highest wage settlements, are not mentioned?
Why is productivity the stick with which you berate workers for the “inflated” wage demands, but you remain silent on executives who get multi-million rand bonuses even when the performance of their companies is lacklustre?
It is this kind of hypocrisy that enrages union activists and lies at the core of the recent strikes in the country.
Let me conclude by clarifying why many of us condemn this crass enrichment. It is not because we do not want people to be rich. Rather it is because we realise that for us to move forward as a society, we are all going to have to be circumspect in how much we spend today.
Mike is correct when he says that wage increases have to be moderated if we are to be able to make the investments required to grow our economy and address the many social ills which we have inherited. But moderate wage increases are not going to result from berating workers.
Rather it will emerge when leaders in our society, both in the public and private sectors, provide leadership in managing and moderating our collective expectations.
The CEO of Shoprite Checkers cannot truly ask workers to take moderate increases when he walks away with a R627.6m. This is why Mike should be heard on excessive remuneration for CEOs in our corporate and public sectors. If he really cares about our economy, and in inspiring an entrepreneurial spirit, then he would criticise the actions and behaviour that undermine the possibility of managing expectations, without which we cannot mobilise the resources required for greater investment in the economy and society.
So Mike, become part of the solution. Don’t unnecessarily polarise this debate. More importantly don’t caricature your critics. It truly is unbecoming.