May Day

2009-05-02 00:00

MAY 1 is almost universally set aside to recognise the labours of working people. This year there has not been a great deal to celebrate. Amid a global economic crisis with jobs being lost every hour, this country’s already high unemployment rate is escalating. The earnings gap between the workers and the elite has become obscenely wide, and without adequate social safety nets the position of the jobless is perilous indeed.

Ironically, once they have jobs South African workers enjoy better constitutional and legislative protection than many of their counterparts elsewhere. There are always instances where, as on some farms, workers are abused, but the core problem is the lack of job opportunities. The situation is made worse by the influx of illegal aliens willing to accept pay and working conditions way below the standards set by the law.

The government is sure to be blamed for not creating more jobs, with a macro-economic policy that prioritises wealth creation above wealth redistribution. It remains to be seen whether the incoming Jacob Zuma administration will be able to satisfy the demand and the expectation which its election promises have created, to provide more employment. The prospects are not good. There would first have to be an international upturn, which is many months away, and then the usual delay before this country catches up. On paper, workers have made significant gains under the democratic dispensation, but they are far from being consolidated into assured material benefits.

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