Thousands of employees in small business in KZN can expect cold comfort this Christmas, while corporate and government employees look as if they will be the ones who keep tills ringing.

Gerrie van Biljon, the director of Business Partners, which specialises in small business funding, said few of the smaller companies would award bonuses this year as most were in “survival mode”.

“Lower down the scale, businesses are feeling the pressure; they have exhausted their reserves.

“Small businesses are saying they can no longer use Christmas to get out of the ‘dwang’.

“Large corporations and the government, however, will be different. They will pay increases and bonuses as usual,” he said.

Suppliers of Christmas season goods were being hard hit with smaller orders than before, he added.

Keith Trench, of Trench Plumbers, said small businesses, particularly those in the construction sector, had hit rock bottom.

“No, I am not paying bonuses this year. I did last year. Unless you are working for the government you’re in trouble. And, for those of us who are busy, the clients can’t pay. It’s terrible.”

However, brickmaking giant Corobrik would pay 100 percent bonuses to all its staff countrywide and it would have a year-end party, said finance manager Peter Kidger.

While the national accounting firm BDO Spencer Steward had yet to finalise its bonuses, it said it planned to spend about R250 to R300 a head on a party.

“Our directors will meet next week to decide on bonuses. We will all get a bonus, but it just depends how much,” said finance manager Sally Jukes.

Econometrix economist Yumna Ebrahim warned that despite fuel and food price hikes during the year and less disposable income in most households, financial struggles would seem non-existent come Christmas.

“Lots of consumers are making use of unsecured loans.

“Last year, a large amount of impulse spending took place on durable goods such as appliances and furniture. This year, I don’t foresee a difference,” she said.

But Van Biljon predicted that less would be spent on luxury goods and more on school gear.

While Ebrahim pleaded with the public to save their bonuses to service their debts and prepare for January’s school fee hikes, Durban Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer Andrew Layman predicted a successful holiday season for the province.

“It takes more than bad economic times to stop people from coming on holiday,” he quipped.