Professor Webster, professor emeritus at the Society Work & Development Institute (SWOP) at Wits University, may have “retired” from full-time employment but is certainly and fortunately still active in contributing to various important debates.
In particular his views on the concept of “decent work” deserve the attention of every concerned South African and his focus on the new Community Work Programme, which hopes to offer participants 100 days of work, should spark a debate.
Professor Webster’s interesting opinion appears in Business Day today there is more about him in earlier posts.
He points out that “more than 54 years ago, delegates gathered in Kliptown, Soweto, to draw up the Freedom Charter. It became an iconic document, defining the nature of our struggle for freedom and democracy. At the core of this document was an explicit link between the right to work and that of security. However, in spite of the progress we have made in winning the demands of the Freedom Charter, the key demand has not been won — the right to work. Indeed, with 23,4% of the economically active population unemployed, the goal of the right to work and security seems as elusive as ever”.
Professor Webster discusses an alternative to the theory of the alleged rigid labour market and draws a distinction between “personal trouble” and “public issue”. He suggests that public policy that favours education and training over job creation puts the cart before the horse.
For reasons mentioned by Prof Webster he states “Minsky argued that jobs must be made available that can “take workers as they are”, regardless of their skills, education or personal characteristics. Upgrading of these characteristics would be a second step — with much of the necessary training occurring on the job. By placing employment creation at the heart of all economic policy, the government is accepting Minsky’s challenge”.
After referring to Keynes he refers to the goal of establishing “decent work for all” and states that by “decent work I mean all forms of paid work, including self-employment, home work and outsourced work, providing it is socially regulated”.
Prof Webster also refers to the National Rural Employment Guarantee of India and states that the “government’s new Community Work Programme will provide access to a minimum level of regular and predictable employment opportunities. It offers participants 100 days of work per year, putting our programme on a par with India’s model”.
He concludes with these words:
“Of course the really difficult question is how, and over what period of time, we will make these forms of employment decent jobs. These are the fundamental questions that face us and, above all, our newly elected government in the face of the current global crisis”.