Working against jobs

Working nine-to-five might be “no way to make a living” goes the old ditty, but it sure beats the desperation of eking out an existence on welfare with unemployment’s remorseless descent from healthy self-esteem. Yet, despite politicians campaigning for “jobs, jobs, jobs”, they seem strangely averse to these when they come along.

About 15 million South Africans are on welfare, mainly supported by 7.7 million of the country’s 13 million registered taxpayers. Almost 4.5 million people are all-out unemployed, scrabbling for work in an economy whose labour absorption rate, notes the SA Institute of Race Relations, is only 41%. Stats SA reckons that 71% of people with jobs are found in the formal non-farming sector and that the informal sector accounts for only 15.5%. Employment rose almost 69% between democracy’s coming in 1994 and last year, with state jobs jumping 29% in just more than the past decade alone.

But lies, damned lies and statistics make for raucous discussion. So, Adcorp Analytics measured 6.3 million people in the informal sector last May, where Stats SA found 2.1 million, a difference of more than 4 million souls getting on with it. Where Stats SA found 13 million employed, Adcorp found 19.4 million. Meanwhile, the oft-quoted official unemployment rate of one-in-four people balloons to more than one-in-three (36%) when you include those people who haven’t actively sought work in a month, many because, as officialdom puts it, they’ve “lost hope”.

Then, the ruling ANC promises “decent work” but don’t confuse it with government’s promise to “expand employment opportunities”.
In things like “Work for Water” and roadside stop-go sign or red warning flag operators, the state’s public works programmes overshot its 1 million “opportunities” goal under President Thabo Mbeki. It aims for another 4 million by 2014. This isn’t the same as “jobs”.

These “opportunities” are not meant to last and are, notes Nedbank socio-political economist J P Landman, “low-paid, temporary and at best part-time jobs”.  The irritating “that’s better than nothing” thought isn’t bought by all, and especially in a legal regime, says the World Economic Forum, that puts SA way down at 138 out of 142 studied countries in labour market flexibility.
Argued National African Federated Chamber of Commerce president Lawrence Mavundla three years ago: “By their excessive laws, (politicians) victimise and criminalise able-bodied and potentially productive South Africans so that they consume rather than contribute to the country’s wealth”.

A study by UCT professors Nicoli Nattrass and Jeremy Seekings, released by the Centre for Development and Enterprise last week, looks at the ongoing fight between the SA Clothing and Textile Workers Union (Sactwu) and allied upper-end Capetonian textile manufacturers (operating in the national bargaining council) against garment workers and companies in the rest of the country, especially northern KwaZulu-Natal’s Newcastle and in the eastern Free State.

If the long-established work and pay levels of the Western Cape are forced on the rest, as is increasingly happening, then an industry geared to cheap clothing for the poorest will continue to relocate to Lesotho and China, with another 16 700 jobs under direct threat.

This didn’t seem to worry then Sactwu general secretary Ebrahim Patel when, back in 1995, he promised to “eat these fly-by-nights for breakfast”. Patel was appointed Economic Development Minister in 2009.

– Paul Pereira. (Published in The Citizen, 5 February 2013).