False start for jobs and skills policy

2011-11-05 12:58

A year after its unveiling, the New Growth Path (NGP) has yielded few results apart from a National Skills Accord, while labour and business have rejected its key proposals and the policy is still caught in a cycle of consultation.

An unfavourable global economic environment has not helped.

Its basic principles were released last year by Minister in the Presidency, Collins Chabane, before being unveiled by Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel in parliament in November last year.

The plan aims to create five million jobs by 2020 and train artisans and technicians – about 20 000 by state-owned enterprises such as Transnet and Eskom.

A year later, the finer details are still being ironed out. Its jobs target seems to be dead in the water, with the required 500?000 jobs for this year negated by a loss of 426?000 jobs in the formal non-agricultural sector.

Iraj Abedian, Pan African Advisory Services CEO, seen as one of the architects of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution policy – SA’s economic policy from 1996 to 2001 – said the NGP lacked coordination.

The green economy fell under various ministries and would be difficult to enforce, he said, arguing that the NGP did not appear to have a champion – preferably the president or his deputy – or the backing of a united cabinet.

President Jacob Zuma first spoke about it at the ANC’s January birthday celebration, by which time labour federation Cosatu and Business Unity SA (Busa) had attacked key proposals.

Cosatu called it inadequate and said it was not “fundamentally restructuring the economy” to meet the poor’s needs. Business was more scathing.

A Busa discussion docu-ment stated: “Any attempt to place the state at the centre of job creation is bound to fail and fail spectacularly.” Business attacked the salary cap proposal. Abedian said it had merit, but separating the executives’ and workers’ bonus pool was “bizarre”.

The document analyses Brazil, Chile, Malaysia, Poland and Ghana, which have tackled high unemploy-ment. It presents “11 tough choices” ranging from a disciplined macro-economic approach to action rather than talk; extending skills and support to the education system rather than pumping in more money; getting business more engaged in skills development rather than leaving it to sector education and training authorities (Seta); and re-engineering parastatals and investing in small, medium and micro enter­prises and the informal sector.

A business executive who serves on large business bodies said Patel was keen to secure agreements on “low-hanging fruit” like skills – which have produced the National Skills Accord.

The accord has eight commitments by the social partners to improve further education and training colleges and Seta governance, and to urge firms to train beyond their needs.

Busa president Futhi Mtoba urged businesses to raise the payroll levy from 1% of payroll to between 3% and 5%. Business executives criticised Patel’s attempt to impose his vision, as if small and large businesses would do as instructed.

Speaking in his ANC role, Enoch Gondongwana, Deputy Minister of Economic Development and ANC economic transformation committee chairperson, said the NGP was in “implementation mode” and would be critiqued at next year’s policy conference.

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