Latest figures show failure of jobs summit

04 August 2019 - 00:06 By asha speckman

Predictably, the government's jobs summit, which was launched with much fanfare last year, has yielded little fruit.Trade unions, the most ardent supporters of the initiative, are beginning to vent their disappointment in the wake of the worst unemployment figures in more than a decade, released this week. Sceptics of the summit, staged in Midrand in October last year, and of some of its less-than-realistic resolutions probably feel vindicated in an "I told you so" kind of way. Following news that the unemployment rate had swelled to 29% in the second quarter of this year, Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla criticised the government, saying it was clear it had no plan. By promising only 2-million jobs over a decade, when SA has the highest unemployment rate worldwide, the country's leaders had admitted defeat, he said. An equally frustrated Zwelinzima Vavi, the general secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions, said unions had made endless petitions to the government to abandon its current economic policies, and their cries had fallen on deaf ears. But it is nonsensical for labour unions to cry foul now when, for years, they have contributed to short-sighted policies and failed to provide solutions to the chronic jobs bloodbath or commit to a few serious trade-offs that could alleviate the situation. In recent years, labour has been at the forefront in trashing the proposals of a perplexed business sector and civil society and tossing these onto the heap of politically unpalatable ideas at a time when SA thought it could afford to maintain and even accelerate populist policies.But now everyone is panicking, given the ticking timebomb that the elevated youth unemployment rate presents. For those aged 25-34, joblessness at 35.6% is now double the rate of middle-aged people.The government's ideas are floundering and it should reconsider proposals, even radical ones, that would lead to job creation. In 2016, the Centre for Development and Enterprise suggested export-processing zones with access to duty-free imports, presumably of inputs, and exemption from some legislation to significantly reduce the cost of labour. Employers would determine wages and working conditions with employees without affecting wage conditions elsewhere in SA. As Stats SA reveals, the issue is that a large section of the workforce is unskilled and unprepared for the fourth industrial revolution. Close to a third of the 21,000 jobs created in the second quarter of this year were in elementary and domestic work positions. Desperation to put food on the table may have also forced some skilled people into low-income jobs. What is clear is that the chickens have come home to roost, and trade unions and the government have to abandon fruitless ideas and review the "decent work agenda" of the 1990s which priced unskilled workers out of the market.

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day, Financial Mail or Rand Daily Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00.