File photo: Cosatu's spokesperson, Patrick Craven.

Durban - The National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) partners hope to have a youth employment accord - which is likely to include details of financial incentives such as a youth subsidy - signed before President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address next week.

The accord makes five key commitments, carefully skirting the controversial wage subsidy, including:

- Improving the training and work experience of young people.

- Public sector brigades and programmes aimed at youth employment.

- Employment “set-asides” for young people.

- Private sector “commitments”.

- Support for youth co-operatives and youth-owned small businesses.

Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said the trade union federation expected a decision “reasonably soon”.

“There’s no reason to assume it won’t be signed soon… We want it to be agreed on as soon as possible,” he said, but would not comment on whether the agreement could be finalised during a Nedlac conveners’ meeting scheduled for tomorrow.

Nedlac comprises representatives of the government, business, labour and the community sector.

Cosatu and the ANC held a bilateral meeting within the Nedlac forum on Monday, in which it is understood “a range of issues” were covered, including the youth employment accord.

It is understood that at the meeting, Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and president S’dumo Dlamini met Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel, representing the ANC.

The ANC national executive committee lekgotla, which took place in Pretoria last weekend, endorsed a “general… approach” to tackling youth unemployment, including youth employment support and incentive schemes, which might include the youth subsidy.

But Vavi said this week Cosatu still opposed the subsidy because of concerns that older workers would be replaced with cheaper, younger labour, and its belief that workers, rather than employers, should benefit from government subsidies.

Craven said Cosatu wanted education and training of workers for the “kind of jobs which must be created” to top the demands to be addressed in the accord.

“We hope employers will collaborate with this and that there will be an increase in apprenticeship schemes. This will be important to crack youth unemployment,” he said.

He said the government’s public works programme needed to be “expanded and revitalised” to be more effective.

“There is no doubt that there is work that needs to be done for the programme to be better organised.”

He also quashed speculation that the post-Mangaung honeymoon between the ANC and Cosatu was over, saying there was “no reason to think that”.

“At the ANC policy conference in 2007, they threw out the proposal of the youth wage subsidy. There is not strictly speaking a dispute between the ANaC and Cosatu. We still are open-minded and are awaiting what comes out of the Nedlac process,” he said.

This week, the Progressive Youth Alliance, which includes the ANC Youth League, Young Communist League, Council of SA Students and SA Students Congress, said it believed Nedlac was “on the verge of an agreement with all stakeholders”.

SA Youth Council president Thulani Tshefuta, who serves as the youth representative at Nedlac, said the forum’s management committee wanted the accord to be signed off by March, adding Zuma’s meeting with social partners, including business, in October last year had already resulted in certain agreements.

“There might be an announcement in the State of the Nation address on the implementation of an incentive scheme which will not only focus on private-sector incentives, but also provide support for young people in covering practical costs of looking for employment, similar to a job-seeker’s grant,” Tshefuta said.

The Mercury