THE BIG READ: Cosatu lets youth down
No regular reader of this newspaper will need any introduction to the scale and depth of the unemployment crisis in South Africa.
Despite the government's oft-stated commitment to creating jobs, its policy programme has resulted in a stagnant job market with little growth. Recently, we have seen unemployment actually rise, rather than come down.
Today, one in every four people who should be working is unemployed. Even worse, unemployment mostly affects young people. Half of those under the age of 30 who should be economically active sit without jobs.
This is not the freedom that so many people fought, suffered and even died for.
The youth wage subsidy is a practical and crucial first step to tackling youth unemployment. After it was suggested by the DA, it was announced by President Jacob Zuma in his 2009 state of the nation speech. According to the Treasury, about 423000 young South Africans would benefit from the subsidy.
In Singapore, a similar scheme was introduced between 2003 and 2007, and resulted in the near-halving of unemployment.
In South Africa, the youth wage subsidy is supported by business, the National Development Plan, Fedusa - the second-largest trade union federation - and even by Zuma himself. And yet there is a major obstacle to its implementation.
Money is not the problem. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has set aside R5-billion for the first phase of the project.
The subsidy has not been implemented because Cosatu has been blocking it at the National Economic Development and Labour Council for two years now.
Cosatu's main argument against it is that it will cause businesses to retrench older and better-paid workers to employ subsidised young workers.
This is not true. The subsidy proposal has been specifically structured to prevent this. Only businesses that expand their staff complements will be eligible for the subsidy.
Finding a first job offers young people a crucial foothold on the first rung of the economic ladder. In making their way up, step by step, men and women find value and dignity.
But how are young people to start on this journey if no jobs are available? The truth is that, with every day lost, searching for that first job and finding one becomes more difficult.
This is exactly why the youth wage subsidy would have such a profound effect. At its core it allows young people the opportunity to gain access to the job market for the first time.
It creates an incentive for business to hire people who would otherwise have been excluded from the labour market.
It is in its knock-on effect that the true value of the youth wage subsidy becomes clear. When young people find a job for the first time, they are able to support their families.
Hundreds of thousands of new jobs means millions can benefit.
But we in the DA understand that this is not where it ends.
On the contrary, the added value - the hidden value if you will - is of immeasurable importance.
The hope and dignity that employment gives manifests itself as a new-found sense of pride.
It gives sons and daughters the right to stand proudly in front of their parents and grandparents as fully fledged adults.
This will generate a sense of optimism and restore a value system based on having a job that affords one the means to care for oneself and one's dependants .
In opposing the youth wage subsidy, Cosatu is effectively entrenching intergenerational poverty.
But even more disgraceful is that it withholds - from the jobless - the material and social upliftment that comes with having a job. The damage of this to the national psyche is profound.
If Cosatu truly spoke in favour of the poor, and accepted its responsibility, it would wield its considerable power constructively. Instead, Cosatu actively works against a measure that will create jobs.
That is why the DA is so resolute that we need a youth wage subsidy programme now.
Our march to Cosatu House this week ensured that the youth wage subsidy issue is placed squarely on the political agenda and in the social conscience.
We will intensify our campaign in coming weeks. This was only the first step in generating awareness among all South Africans of the struggle for the youth wage subsidy.
- Maimane is DA national spokesman