Since 1995 South Africa has grown at less than half the rate needed to tackle the unemployment crisis.   The unemployed are on the other side of ‘Hadrian’s Wall’, they are not part of the bargaining process over labour policy and neither trade unions nor government legislate in their interests.   It is just a matter of time before the unemployed raise the price of their plight being ignored.

Today Business Day were the first to publish the latest opinion of John Kane-Berman, CE of the South African Institute of Race Relations, – We’re back to before square one on reforming our labour laws.

Here are some extracts but it is necessary to read the entire article in Business Day.

ACCORDING to the “diagnostic overview” recently published by the National Planning Commission, the South African economy has achieved average growth of about 3,3% a year since 1995.   This is half the lower estimates of the rates we need to make a serious dent in unemployment, identified by the report as the country’s number one problem.

The situation will probably not really change unless the jobless in SA can somehow find a way of raising the price of continuing to ignore their plight.   In the meantime, we must work for a constitutional amendment that guarantees the right — moral and human — to undertake work free of impediments imposed by ministers, unions or bargaining councils.

‘Social compact’

Indeed, everyone’s fall-back solution, the three-way “social compact”, is just another version of the old tricameral parliament.   That body represented white, coloured and Indian voters, while Africans were left out.   In a similar way, the unemployed do not form part of the bargaining process over labour policy.   Taking its cue from the union-leaning Department of Labour, Parliament legislates against their interests.

Jobless growth since 1994

Even then, the government’s target of 5- million new jobs in 10 years is half the number we actually need to conquer unemployment.   On the strict definition — which ignores “discouraged” work seekers — the number of jobless people has more than doubled since the African National Congress came to power.


Back in June 1996, the much- maligned Growth, Employment, and Redistribution (Gear) strategy went even further.   “Labour market measures which facilitate job creation for unskilled and semiskilled work seekers are needed to enhance the labour absorption associated with economic expansion.”   Hence, it went on, the need for greater flexibility in the collective bargaining system, especially at the lower end of wage distribution.

Gear also noted that “irregular, subcontracted, outsourced or part- time employment on semiformal contractual terms is becoming the preferred source of labour for many employers”.   And it warned: “Where regulations raise the costs of job creation, employers turn to unregulated forms of employment.”

Pile of regulations

The diagnostic overview is designed to launch public consultation to generate a shared “vision” and development plan.   Even if this hoped-for consensus includes proposals to liberate the labour market, we will be back to square one.   In fact, we will be further back.   The years since 1996 have added to the pile of regulations that will need to be liberalised.

Bargaining councils and lack of competition

Trade unions demanding the abolition of labour broking are only part of the problem.   We have seen this year in Newcastle, in KwaZulu-Natal, that business is also to blame for the way in which our labour market works — or rather is prevented from working.

After all, the campaign to stamp out so-called noncompliant clothing factories — destroying jobs in the process — is carried out in the name of the industry’s bargaining council, which by law is a body on which employers are equally represented.

Unions and employers often have a joint interest in protecting themselves against competition.   The third “social partner” is the government.   Our government, because of its own ideological proclivities, its trade union links, and its inability to lead, is unable to speak for the unemployed.