We do intend to blame many of our ills on the pandemic and the lockdown. However, it must be noted our unemployment crisis has grown from bad to worse over the past 20 years.
It has been worsened by the lockdown and the fear of further trading restrictions. However, we must note that almost 1100 people have been added to the unemployment line every day since October 30, 2009. Likewise, more than 350 people have joined the discouraged job seekers group every day since then.
The latest expanded unemployment rate has shown how bad the situation is. Our youth, who make up 65% of those unemployed, bear the brunt of the sad statistics.
I took time off during the initial lockdown to reread some of the older books in my labour law library. One of the books was Liberating South African Labour from the Law by Frans Rautenbach. The book celebrates its 21st anniversary. The book outlines some of the issues discouraging employers from creating more jobs.
By the end of 1999, our job losses were enormous and the then president, Thabo Mbeki, had taken it upon himself to try to persuade concerned foreign investors that unemployment in South Africa would be tackled and turned around. Of course, this was not the case and things got worse.
Rautenbach outlines his policy on how the labour laws and the harsh regulations were stifling job creation and encouraging employers to retrench. He outlined a vision for South Africa to become a model state and a true leader of the African Renaissance. He spoke about full employment, good housing, good education and great health care. Unfortunately, the vision has been shattered.
Another interesting book I took off my shelf was Jobs, Jobs, Jobs compiled by Temba Nolutshungu, a director of the Free Market Foundation. Nolutshungu brought together a group of individuals in 2011 to have a look into turning the unemployment situation around. I was one of those honoured to give a small contribution called Increase Employment by Giving Small Firms a Break.
We celebrate a decade since the publishing of that book and, unfortunately, the input of all the authors has not been taken up by the state.
Nolutshungu explains how he had done all sorts of jobs in his life, including working in a grocery shop and a bakery and doing manual labour. “Given all those experiences, I can assertively state that very few things are as gratifying to the soul as bringing hard-earned money into the home.”
He is correct and his heart in the right place. Nolutshungu is aware of some of the exploitation that workers suffered. He says emotive terms, like exploitation, confused the real debate and encouraged the enactment of policies that are not grounded in reality.
I turned to my small contribution to that book, where I say that 68% of all jobs in South Africa are provided by small- and medium-sized firms.
“Small employers offer the greatest hope to the unemployed. They will hire the inexperienced, the young, the old, the illiterate and the otherwise disadvantaged. They have niches into which they can fit people who would have no hope of finding jobs in big companies.
“Labour law needs to make provision for variations in employment conditions that will allow small employers to hire those who would otherwise be unemployed. What is needed is a new deal for small businesses that will encourage them to take chances on young people looking for their first jobs.”
I don’t believe the situation has changed. We need to somehow encourage small businesses to open their doors to the young and inexperienced. We need to enable the youth of South Africa to get some experience.
If the government would deregulate the small business community, we would see a massive wave of employment for those who are disadvantaged. We all know that small business is the bridge between the informal sector and the formal taxpaying business world.
We have innovative people in South Africa. People who are willing and able to get to work every day and are hungry for knowledge. They merely need guidance to gain the expertise.
The system of bargaining councils destroy small businesses. Small businesses are bound by the rules and regulations that govern big business.
Our Minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni, did at least refer to the decoupling of small business from the bargaining councils. Mboweni was shot down by the trade union movement. Nothing has changed in South Africa with regard to small businesses.
* Michael Bagraim is a labour lawyer. He can be contacted at [email protected]
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.