Laws and systems are structured to fit in and enhance normal societies. The legislation and regulations are specifically geared to help a society run smoothly and to enhance a system that works.
The system is completely reliant on law and order and adherence to the regulations by the role players. Furthermore, the system is geared towards a society that is well-structured and functioning.
Things start falling apart very rapidly when you have lawlessness, recklessness, and almost institutional immorality. Under the governing party over the past approximately twenty years, all of us started noticing how the institutions of the state were being weakened and abused.
I’m speaking from a labour legal point of view, where we, as practitioners, all started noticing how some of the institutions, such as the Unemployment Insurance Fund, the Compensation Fund, and the Department of Labour itself, weren’t performing their functions.
Many employers noticed how easy it was to abuse their duties to their staff, because of the crumbling state infrastructure.
Coupled with this, it also started to show that the trade unions were moving away from a working-class movement and neglecting their shop floor duties. It does need to be said that the nature of employment was also rapidly changing, and in fact, today it could be said that those who are employed are the elite.
Unfortunately, the alliance between the trade unions and the governing party has, to a large degree, weakened the trade union movement itself and their leadership. Trade union leaders had more interest in political positions than in the shop floor issues.
As the governing party hollowed out state institutions and state-owned enterprises, many more cracks started to appear in the employment situation in South Africa as a whole.
Under President Nelson Mandela, the economy was thriving, and jobs were plentiful. As we walked the streets, it was common to see placards outside businesses stating “apply within for positions”.
This was short-lived, and within a few years, the pendulum of employment moved sharply to unemployment. Retrenchments became the order of the day in many industries. As jobs were threatened and industries were collapsing, our government sought to tackle this by creating more and more onerous labour legal statues and incredibly horrifying regulations.
These statutes and regulations had the opposite effect of hobbling businesses and, in particular, small businesses.
Those who had jobs found that they had greater protection from the statutes but less of a future. Those who wanted to enter the job market found that employers were now reluctant to make room for more people. Employers weighed up the consequences of employing people who had enormous rights and more and more protection.
Employers found it easier, cheaper, and quicker to outsource, import and to mechanise. In other words, the onerous labour legal system backfired and created more unemployment.
Today, on the expanded definition of unemployment, we’re at almost 45%. Today, we have the second-lowest productivity in the world. Today, the youth in the age group 16 to 25 are probably closer to 70% unemployment.
The government's reaction to all of this when it has found itself in a hole is to dig deeper. The labour ministry has reacted by adding more laws and more regulation, and they keep digging.
The employers have also reacted and have stopped employing and have also stopped giving commensurate increases with inflation. Employees now find themselves in an invidious situation.
Their jobs are threatened because of the new environment, and they are earning less each year. This inevitably leads to strikes, which have become more and more vitriolic as the months go by.
This year's strike season is already in full swing, and we are only in the first quarter. We are on the cusp of probably one of the biggest strikes this country has ever seen in its history, and we are experiencing reckless behaviour as the strikes turn ugly.
* Michael Bagraim.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.