Let there be work

2014-12-18 06:00

I would like to raise an issue that troubles me greatly: the 8.3?million people who are unemployed in this country. What is it about this tragic situation that makes good people shut it out of their minds?

My question is: why is it that so many people are unemployed when there is so much to be done in this country? I have no doubt that under different circumstances, private entrepreneurs would find work for all those who wanted to work.

The reason people don’t get jobs is because the country’s labour laws have imposed risks and costs on potential employers they cannot afford to carry.

There will be much more employment if we remove these unnecessary risks and costs.

I would like to make clear what I am talking about. Am I in favour of what is described as slave labour? No. Am I against what is described as a decent job? No. Am I in favour of creating conditions that will lead to rapid economic growth? Yes.

Do we need rapid economic growth to absorb our 8.3?million unemployed brothers and sisters into the labour force? Yes.

Can we increase labour absorption even if we don’t have a high economic growth? Yes. How? By removing the barriers to employment. How? By changing the laws to allow the unemployed to decide for themselves what they think is a decent job.

Will the views of unemployed people about what is a decent job be different to yours or mine? Probably.

Should they be able to take jobs we think are not decent and ones we would be inclined to urge them not to accept? Yes, it is their decision and not ours.

Is that not a callous and inhuman approach to take? No.

It is callous and inhuman to take away their decision-making power over their lives by adopting laws, like minimum wage laws, that remove

every opportunity they might otherwise have had.

Would I misuse the situation and treat people badly? No. And I know you would not either.

What would be the difference? It would be that you and I would not end up in the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration for giving a jobless person a chance by paying them an agreed rate for their work.

The difference would be that our unemployed brothers and sisters would have hope, the dignity of a job and the ability to put bread on the table for their families.

Finally, I have been talking about the rule of law, and the proper functioning of the courts and law enforcement agencies. Readers will know I am a strong supporter of capitalism, free markets and economic freedom.

You need to know there is no inconsistency in my views. The rule of law is an essential part of capitalism and free markets. Check the most economically free countries in the world and you will find the rule of law is central to the way they all function.

It is also no accident that places like Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland, Mauritius, the United Arab Emirates, Canada and Australia have among the highest per capita incomes and highest growth rates in the world.

You might ask how I can include Hong Kong on my list when they seem to be in serious trouble there.

Look at what is happening and you will see that the people are protesting about China’s interference in the judicial system, and are calling for true democracy that allows them to choose their own political candidates and vote in their own government. It is about the rule of law and adding political freedom to their economic freedom.

This is an edited extract from an address Mashaba gave on December 8 at the University of Stellenbosch

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