Re-energising an excluded and frustrated labour force as more job-seekers lose hope


Yesterday Stats SA released the unemployment figures for the first quarter of 2019, reporting a rise in unemployment from 27.2% in the previous quarter to 27.6%.

Of particular interest and concern was the large increase in discouraged workers reported at 156 000, as well as the relatively higher levels of unemployment of women, in comparison to their male counterparts.

A labour policy towards the effective re-energising of labour participation could be an important start towards achieving the National Development Plan which aims to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030, with employment creation as a primary growth thrust. However, policies aimed at labour participation without prioritising gender inclusivity, would inherently fall short of materially bringing about change in a meaningful and sustainable way.  

Labour Participation and Absorption

The labour force participation rate reflects the number of employed and those seeking employment as a fraction of the entire labour force. This suggests that a declining labour force participation rate either means there are more people retiring than joining the labour force or it would mean there are more and more people giving up on looking for work.

Declining rates of participation are also a function of education attainment, where lower rates of education attainment will likely lead to lower labour force participation rates. Stats SA data from the 2017 General Household Survey (GHS) found that only 33.8% of youth aged 18-24 were attending education institutions, with 51% citing money as the primary reason for their non-participation. Women have historically had and continue to have lower labour participation ratios than men, with social exclusion, discrimination and poverty reported as the main drivers.

This is further worsened by the latest Stats SA report finding that women have a higher rate of unemployment reported at 41.5% compared to men at 34.9%, when looking at the extended definition of unemployment. 

Prioritising Representation and Equity

The reported unemployment numbers over index on both gender and race. This means that we cannot over emphasise the importance of prioritising black and female jobs. The Eastern Cape for example is an ANC stronghold yet they continue to report the highest unemployment numbers by province, with official unemployment of 37.4% and an extended definition unemployment number of 48,3%. Limpopo on the other hand has an official unemployment rate of 18.5% and an extended definition rate of 43.1%.

In each of these provinces, agriculture is a big growth market, and the labour policies would therefore need to 1. Understand how to ensure equitable participation and 2. Improve labour market perception and sentiment to re-energise those that have given up looking. More specifically, the racial distribution in agriculture in 2016 was 64% Black, 23% Coloured, 1% Indian and 12% White.

This suggests that basic extrapolation and investment into the sector will ensure a more representative absorption of labour. Agriseta data shows that out of the agricultural training interventions that took place in 2016, for Managers, 147 were attributable to women while 429 were attributable to men, 365 for women technicians, while 1117 went towards male technicians. This suggests that while women continue to be well represented in absolute numbers in the sector, little investment goes towards equitable distribution of resources across all genders.

Agriculture in this instance is merely representative of the labour failures we continue to see across all sectors. The sure way to get higher labour participation is both in the investment into a conducive labour environment as well as labour policy that is clear in its position towards inclusive labour force participation

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