The Jobs Summit is only the start of a "continuous conversation" that social partners should be having about the structure of the economy, says Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) President Sipho Pityana, who spoke in Midrand on Thursday at the start of the two-day event.
"The jobs summit doesn’t pretend we have all the answers.
"We think we have some, but we cannot underestimate the requirement for long-term economic restructuring," Pityana cautioned.
Business, labour, government and the community sector have been working for three months under the auspices of the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) in preparation for the Jobs Summit, in a bid to tackle the current unemployment rate of 27.2%.
Pityana said public discourse was no longer dominated by scandals, which allowed social partners at Nedlac to come together.
Put the vulnerable first
Speaking on behalf of labour at Nedlac, general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) Bheki Ntshalintshali admitted there had been several occasions where labour had wanted to pull out of the Jobs Summit, but had opted to put their differences aside and put the interests of the most vulnerable first.
Without naming rival organisation the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), Ntshalintshali said he was surprised by their decision to "boycott social engagement".
Saftu had earlier announced they would be boycotting the Jobs Summit.
Ntshalintshali said labour had proposed a moratorium on retrenchments, an end to the "investment strike" and the filling of public sector vacancies, but not all their demands were included in the final declaration.
However, labour at Nedlac recognises "this is not an event but a process", he said.
Pityana, a vocal critic of former president Jacob Zuma, praised President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was up on stage with him. He said Ramaphosa had "led from the front" since taking office in February, and "made enormous and courageous strides to reclaim our country".
"We have responded to the call of Thuma Mina," Pityana said referring to the president’s "Send Me" call in his maiden State of the Nation Address in February.
He was, however, pragmatic about the state of the economy, expected to grow at 0.7% in 2018. He cautioned against taking on further debt, as the country remains "precariously placed" for upcoming reviews by ratings agencies, expected after the medium-term budget speech on October 24.
"The data shows that our government has no fiscal headroom to catalyse growth, without risking sovereign ratings," he said.
Thulani Tshefuta, speaking on behalf of the community sector at Nedlac, said all institutions of higher learning should amend their mandate to ensure they have work readiness programmes to help young people make a smooth transition into the workplace.
Fin24 reported earlier that some of the 25 agreements to be signed on Thursday include a mechanism by companies to report on pay ratios of staff, improve local procurement by private firms and boost agricultural and wine exports.
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