Nearly 1.4 million formal and informal jobs are at risk in the South African economy with the present level3 restrictions impacting directly across at least seven sectors. Photo: African News Agency (ANA) Archives
Nearly 1.4 million formal and informal jobs are at risk in the South African economy with the present level3 restrictions impacting directly across at least seven sectors. Photo: African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Tough times ahead as level 3 restrictions will cost 1 in every 12 their job

By Opinion Time of article published Jan 26, 2021

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By Mike Schüssler and Phumlani Majozi

NEARLY 1.4 million formal and informal jobs are at risk in the South African economy with the present level 3 restrictions impacting directly across at least seven sectors.

The sectors are travel, tourism, entertainment, leisure, manufacturing, agriculture, and services that are not elsewhere classified.

The total number of people employed across these sectors equates to one in 12 jobs being directly at risk of destruction. If one includes family and dependants as a reflection of the normal size of households, the level 3 restrictions could impact millions more as they rely on the breadwinner’s wages.

As many also help dependants outside the immediate family, the overall number of people impacted could be as much as 10 percent of the South African population.

Remember, too, that South Africa is often credited with the highest unemployment rate in the world. The impact will be felt even if only half of the jobs at risk are destroyed.

Some provinces, such as the Western and Northern Cape, have even higher numbers: One in six jobs in the Western Cape and one in five in the Northern Cape are at risk.

While the Eastern Cape has only one in 13 jobs at risk, the impact could be greater as the provincial extended unemployment rate could increase to close to 60 percent. Measured differently, the risk for the Eastern Cape is that only one in four adults will have a job if the jobs at risk are destroyed.

While metropolitan unemployment rates are generally lower than rural unemployment rates, all eight metros in the country could end up with extended unemployment rates above 40 percent.

One, Nelson Mandela Bay, would have an unemployment rate of more than 50 percent. Two others, Mangaung and Ekurhuleni, could have unemployment rates of close to 50 percent.

Limpopo and the Eastern Cape already have the highest unemployment rates in the country, so any, even a small, increase would have a devastating impact.

Overall, South African unemployment could rise from 43.1 percent to 51.6 percent within a year, driven by the potential level 3 job losses. And increasing job seekers.

In addition to these unacceptable job losses, the level 3 restrictions are having detrimental repercussions for the turnover of industry as well.

The formal private sector turnover of the industries impacted by the restrictions was R69 billion a month in 2019. The formal private sector is at risk of losing 8.1 percent of its turnover every month that the restrictions remain, using annual financial statistics.

The estimated impact across these sectors is a reduction of at least 60 percent in turnover. This means that R41.4bn is lost every month that the restrictions remain.

The formal salaries paid to employees in these sectors is R9.6bn per month. Personal income tax is estimated at R1.5bn per month. Adding agriculture and informal employee income would be close to R10.5 million.

The knock-on impact can be seen by the fact that these industries buy R38.7bn worth of goods from other sectors every month, and spend R1.5m on advertising as well as fixed costs such as rent, leases, and interest of R4.6bn per month.

Moreover, these sectors pay R7.6bn in taxes every month (excluding employees’ PAYE mentioned above).

These taxes are made up of VAT, excise duties and company taxes.

The total taxes combined are well over R9bn for the formal sector alone per month. Adding things like passenger taxes and tourism spend along with the informal sector VAT spend, the impact of the level 3 restrictions on the fiscus is certainly well over R10bn a month.

The fact that the government extracts more than R10bn a month from these industries during normal times, but cannot find any funds to help them when they are in trouble, is economically short-sighted.

Keeping these businesses alive and operating as far as possible, while they take precautions against the Covid-19 pandemic, will help pay for the now bigger deficit even in the short-term.

Over a maximum period of six years, a relief package that helps the whole industry for three months at a rate of just more than R10bn will have been more than paid back.

Government relief on that scale will also mean that banks will be more likely to help restructure repayments, and suppliers would also be able to help with more finance, too.

Moreover, paying employees extra via the Temporary Employee/Employer Relief Scheme would also help greatly. No one can go 10 months with reduced earnings as a result of harsh restrictions without any government relief.

The government has a moral duty to not cause business failure, as well as to avoid mass hunger. It must immediately open the economy up again and allow businesses to take the necessary hygienic precautions without undue interference.

Mike Schüssler is the chief economist at Economists.co.za, and Phumlani Majozi is a senior fellow at African Liberty

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