More jobs but less work

2013-11-03 14:01

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Increase of 308 000 new jobs shows employment is back at pre-economic crisis levels, according to Stats SA

Stats SA released a rare and unexpected bit of good economic news this week.

It said that unemployment had dropped sharply in the third quarter this year?–?but this is only part of the truth.

According to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey, the economy created an astonishing additional 308?000 new jobs in the last quarter. This despite growth estimates sliding lower throughout the year.

Stats SA’s executive manager, Peter Buwenbo, ventured that employment is now finally back at its high water mark, set in the last quarter of 2008 before the economic crisis hit our shores.

In fact, it is slightly higher: employment in the third quarter this year was estimated at 14.03?million, comfortably beating the precrisis record of 13.84?million.

But much has changed.

Nearly an extra one million people in the job market means there are still 16% more unemployed people now than there were in 2008.

The official unemployment rate now sits at 24.7% compared with 21.9% before the crisis.

The tally of so-called discouraged jobseekers is also 48% higher.

The expanded rate of unemployment now sits at 35.6%, or 7.74?million people.

The composition of the job market has also changed fundamentally since 2008 with a simultaneous formalisation of employment and a serious level of deindustrialisation.

Manufacturing jobs may not have recovered but service jobs have boomed.

The type of work on offer is shifting towards “sales and services”, which added about 300?000 jobs since 2008.

This is almost exactly the amount of “craft” and “machine operator” jobs that have disappeared.

Employment in private households, meaning mostly domestic workers, also remains a much smaller institution than before the crisis.

Major job growth has been noted in the two widest and nonspecific categories: finance, and community and social services.

These include everything from the health and culture industries to contract cleaning, call centres and government jobs.

Although the vast “community and social services” category is often equated with a ballooning state bureaucracy, the civil service contributes far less than half of the three million jobs under this banner.

According to Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s latest medium-term budget policy statement, the civil service (excluding municipalities) added 125?804 employees since 2008 to make a total complement of 1?251?325.

Gordhan announced that this growth would stop with an effective hiring freeze, meaning that one of the major sources of jobs since the crisis is now closed off.

The Stats SA survey is known to not capture mining employment very well.

This is largely because it is a household survey, and mine workers are mainly to be found in dense nodes of mine housing around the operations.

But the role of mining in employment has undergone a relatively slight contraction since 2008.

The job losses in platinum and gold mines offset by massive expansion of the bulk mineral sectors like manganese, iron ore and coal show the most recent statistics from the department of mineral resources.

As South Africa speeds towards elections next year, jobs are becoming inseparable from politics.

The ANC, union federation Cosatu, the DA and business lobbies all managed to draw radically different conclusions from the survey, which was released this week.

The ANC released a statement welcoming the return to precrisis levels of employment. It admitted that more needed to be done and presented the National Development Plan (NDP) as the answer to job creation.

Cosatu simultaneously put out a statement saying the statistics “prove that we are already feeling the effects of the NDP’s policies of deindustrialisation”.

Like the long-term trend, the new jobs since June come mostly from service sectors and trade.

The quarter-on-quarter changes in employment reflect “the rapid casualisation of labour”, according to Cosatu, reacting to the finding that most of the new jobs were fixed-term or otherwise nonpermanent.

Business lobby group Busa also picked up on the spike in casuals, but said in a statement that this “emphasises the demand for temporary work”. This, according to Busa, shows why temporary work must not be banned.

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