A self-serving exercise

2013-12-10 00:00

THERE is an idiom that goes “half a loaf is better than no bread” — meaning that getting part of what you want is better than getting nothing at all.

While this may sound good, I do not share its associated sentiments when it concerns the creation of jobs and bridging the skills gap, as espoused through the proposed youth wage subsidy.

The timing and intentions of the subsidy leave much to be desired, as it is nothing more than a self-serving exercise to benefit the ruling elite.

I believe it is an attempt specifically to target this vulnerable group, the army of unemployed, and to ensure they don’t vote for any other political party that may promise to take them to the land of milk and honey.

Its implementation is equally curious, as it will be implemented from next month, just a few months before the general election, and continue for three years until after the 2016 municipal elections. This begs the question of who is to benefit more from the initiative, which promises to make but a dent in the unemployment rate and skills shortage in the country.

Surprisingly, the answer is not hard to find, considering that young people make up the bulk of South Africa’s population.

Statistics South Africa estimated in May that 65,7% of the 52 million population was under 35 years old and 73% are under 40. And numbers for the third quarter of this year show that 3,3 million youths are not in employment, education or training.

So any party worth its salt and with access to government resources would want to take advantage of the situation. With all parties wishing to get the biggest share of the youth vote, it becomes convenient for the ruling party to introduce the youth wage as it wants to be seen to be doing something for the ranks of the unemployed.

In fact, the ANC is attempting to be politically competitive and outsmart the DA, which has already rolled out a similar programme in the Western Cape, a move the ANC could not afford to leave unanswered, as the DA would have had a field day using the subsidy to showcase one of its good-governance models.

As the government’s move to introduce the youth wage subsidy next month are afoot, it is worth asking some pertinent questions.

Is it not time to create secure and decent jobs in a country where 17 million of its 52 million inhabitants are dependent on social grants?

Is it also not time that our education system makes use of every attempt to bring an end to producing job seekers who are not prepared to enter the economy?

First mooted by President Jacob Zuma in 2010, the subsidy seeks to encourage employers to give young people, aged 19 to 29, their first job experience, in return for a tax incentive.

Parliament adopted the subsidy, known in official circles as the Employment Tax Incentive Bill, two months ago, in time for its introduction next month.

As expected, the youth wage subsidy received backing from the opposition parties after three years of protracted negotiations in the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).

This happened as Cosatu, the biggest labour federation, opposed the subsidy, saying it would encourage employers to fire experienced workers to employ younger people to receive the tax concession.

In accommodating the critics of the subsidy, the government has now made provision for tax penalties against employers who may dismiss employed staff in favour of new workers, who will earn between R2 000 and R4 000 a month.

However, with just R5 billion allocated and no guarantee that companies will not sack the trainees when the scheme is scrapped, the jobs to be created are far fewer than expected, considering the huge number of employed youths.

Also, unemployment is not confined to the youth alone. A country like South Africa, where there is a high rate of unemployment, needs to do more if a meaningful dent is to be made in the unemployment numbers.

This can be done by allocating the necessary funds to the fight against the high rate of unemployment and addressing skills shortages.

This is possible if the powers that be are willing to prioritise resources for the public good and stop wasteful expenditure in the form of more than R200 million spent on Zuma’s household, and R37,6 billion splashed out by KZN government departments on the use of consultants.

This is not too much to ask for, unless they have a different set of priorities.

• Mayibongwe Maqhina is a senior reporter at The Witness.

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