THE small business community is saying it can’t compete with big business when it comes to terms and conditions of employment. EPA
Now is an appropriate time to start exploring ways of creating jobs.

We have about 10 million South Africans wanting to enter the job market but, for various reasons, are unable to find employment. Statistics tell us that more than 52% of the youth cannot find jobs. They also tell us that if someone is unable to find a job in three or four years, they might never find one in their lifetime.

All the authoritative voices agree that we are in a disastrous situation and need to pull together to ensure the trend of job losses is tackled as soon as possible. We also know South Africa has lost jobs every quarter since 2013, and the latest financial indicators are not looking good.

It is agreed between economists that it is not the government that create jobs, but the private sector. The government, however, has to ensure a conducive environment, enabling the business sector to create jobs.

We are also told that jobs will probably be created by the small business sector as opposed to the multinationals. Realistically, we can expect big business to mechanise, industrialise and computerise.

Big business has the benefit of enormous capital and invariably is able to have jobless growth by using its capital to buy machinery.

We also know that mass production of goods like clothing and industrial components could probably be landed here in South Africa at a cheaper rate than we can produce it.

Taking all the above into account, it is necessary for us to see how we can deregulate the labour environment creating a situation where small business can employ people without the fear of the labour laws being used to destroy them thereafter. In jurisdictions across the world we see job creation is enhanced by the easing of the regulatory environment on small business and new business.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has been appointed as the chairperson of a sub-committee of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). This sub-committee is tasked to look at ways of creating jobs. It will be looking at the Fourth Industrial Revolution and investigate ways the governments can partner with the private sector. The committee, through our Department of Employment and Labour, will be calling for input from all South Africans for suggestions about job creation.

This is a call to all readers to put your thinking caps on and start formulating ideas.

We often hear from small business owners that they would try out new ideas if they could have staff in their employ for a few months, only without the fear of them challenging an unfair dismissal thereafter. We also hear they would like to test people out to see if they are productive without the problems that arise when they discover the individuals are not adding value. Small businesses tell us that they are happy to train and up-skill applicants but don’t want to enter into formal employment arrangements. There must be a way in which these businesses can enter into learnership agreements with individuals who are not deemed to be their employees.

Unfortunately, the definition of employment is so wide that it would include anyone who does any work in exchange for remuneration. Even the new national minimum wage takes the definition a step further by including people who might not be employees but have performed some work.

The definitions need to be looked at again and hopefully when the new minister of labour returns from the ILO in Geneva, he will establish a task team with a mandate to help our president in his new committee on job creation.

The ministry should restart by looking at every regulation and see if it can be simplified and made user-friendly. We need to identify the reasons for the unemployment and the real problems.

Numerous organisations in civil society have ideas about how to tackle the problem. One is to ensure the minister does not extend the bargaining council rules and regulations to non-parties. This would mean that small businesses are not bound by the same onerous conditions that big business have designed for themselves. The small business community are saying that they can’t compete with big business when it comes to terms and conditions of employment.

During my last few years of school, I got a job as a waiter at one of the popular restaurant franchises. At first, I asked for work but was told that there was none. I offered to work for free on the basis that I would receive tips and hopefully a meal at the end of the evening. I was able to supplement my pocket money by earning enough tips to enjoy the holidays.

Once I had attained certain skills and showed that I was industrious, the employer put me on the payroll. That exercise cannot be recreated as employers are regulated to the extent that there are minimum wages even for people who are trying to enter the job market.

Furthermore, when the franchise owner asked me to leave as the restaurant moved into its quiet season I did not challenge the decision. Today, there would be a different reaction and there would be a difficult exercise of retrenchment consultations.

It would be wonderful for readers to write in with ideas on how the workplace and in particular small business can expand their workforce and create jobs for our youth who desperately need the skills and the payment.

* Michael Bagraim is a labour lawyer.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media

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