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Is unemployment voluntary?

18 December 2012, 07:58

Recently a chap came to our factory, apparently desperately looking for work. We had no requirement for additional staff at the time so I told him that we were not able to help. He then asked if he could just sweep up the yard or wash some cars – anything to earn a few rand to buy a meal. He had apparently only had water for the past day or two and no real food. 

This gave me pause to think about the huge numbers of unemployed in South Africa. But this was soon to become another question - Is unemployment voluntary?

We agreed that he could wash a car and after about an hour’s work, paid him for his efforts. Before departing, he enquired when he could next check back for work. He was advised to check back in a week’s time to see whether any work might be available.

He happily made his way across the road to a caravan selling food, where he presumably bought himself a square meal.

A week later, Sibusiso arrived back at our factory looking for work. We agreed that we would find something for him to do because he explained that his circumstances were quite dire. He would start work the following day and was ecstatic at the news. He washed a car again and was paid again so that he could have some food and transport money to make his way to work.

He happily made his way across the road and bought another meal.

The following morning, no Sibusiso arrived for work. Two hours into the day, we eventually reached him on his mobile phone number (provided the previous day), to be told that he was on his way but battling with traffic. This was not a promising start, but he had never made the journey to our factory before in rush hour traffic, so we chose to see what happened.

By the end of the working day, our newest worker had still not arrived. Relatively annoyed, I enquired of our supervisor what she thought had happened. She promptly advised me that it was clear to her. Sibusiso was not interested in working to regular hours and fixed rules, but that he would only work on an ad hoc basis as and when he was in desperate need of money.

The following day, Sibusiso again promised telephonically that he was on his way to work and, rather predictably, did not arrive. She advised that this is a common feature amongst many people who live in informal settlements.

While that might be true, it also seems to me to be a common feature amongst a certain mentality of person and has nothing to do with where they live… rather, their living circumstances are a result of the lackadaisical approach to work that they have.

So I now understand that some people don't want a job, they just want money.

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