Restore workers’ dignity and identity

2009-12-12 12:56

SPARE a thought, spare a dime, spare a pot of food for the one

million South Africans who lost their jobs this year. It is ­going to be a tough


Every employed person in South Africa – just more than 12 million

people – is, on average, responsible for four ­others. At Christmas, that means

stretching your pay packet for food, clothing and a little bit of joy.

This year, there will be less gravy in the pot, so Cosatu’s deal

with business to save jobs is a welcome one.

This week, Bobby Godsell of

Business Leadership SA and Cosatu’s Zwelinzima Vavi got together to persuade

businesses to do their utmost to save jobs.

The methods are not pretty or easy.

Freeze wages. Cut wages. Put workers on short-time. These are

painful steps for South African workers who ­already support extended families

and who have felt the ­impact of the recession in either smaller increases or

none at all, and in fewer opportunities to change jobs.

The only sector which is a nett job creator is domestic work.

There are almost 1.2 ­million domestic workers in South ­Africa.

But it is a necessary sacrifice as the country wakes up to its biggest

challenge: joblessness.

In a group of 41 countries, SA has the highest unemployment rate.

While all countries collect data differently, we lead by far, according to the

South Africa Survey of 2008/09.

At unemployment of 24% (the expanded figure which takes account of

people who tire of looking for work), the ­figure is much higher.

The next highest is Spain, at just more than 18% and Turkey, at


Our partner countries of ­India and Brazil, with whom we form a

developing trade bloc, have unemployment of 6.8% and 8% respectively.

It does not look good. Development rests not upon state grants,

foreign aid or on reducing the budget deficit and ­keeping inflation within the

targeted band of between three to 6%. It will pivot on putting our people to


Numerous studies show that while work is linked to earnings, it is

also key to our dignity and identity.

Government is right to focus on jobs and to insist that the

­Reserve Bank sees employment creation as one of its ­pillars.

But government is wrong to believe that it holds the panacea to

poverty-breaking job ­creation.

Public Works Minister Geoff Doidge has toiled very hard to ensure

that the state reaches its target of providing 500 000 work opportunities.

But these are not jobs.

A state-funded scheme to train workers that are about to be laid

off has not yielded the numbers that Economic Development Minister Ebrahim

­Patel had hoped for.

This is why the deal between labour and business must point the way

forward to making a ­future that works.

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