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Labour Wrap: Christmas, the economy and child labour

Nov 23 2017 06:00
Terry Bell

WITH Christmas coming, the tills of the towns are unlikely to ring as merrily this year as in the past, says Terry Bell in his latest Labour Wrap. He says this is understandable, given the ongoing economic crisis where even the average banked salaries of workers have, in real terms, declined.

However, the festivities will go on and shopping baskets will be filled with whatever can be afforded. But the goods in those baskets may also give a good indication of a global problem: the race to the bottom.

Bell maintains that international corporations and supermarkets put pressure on producers to provide goods at ever cheaper prices and this is a major contributor to the race to the bottom. Lower returns to contracted companies and farmers leads to lower wages and to greater exploitation.

This, Bell says, is one of the factors leading to the use of child labour. And he notes that Statistics SA records that, in 2015, there were 550 000 child labourers in South Africa, more than 200 000 fewer than five years earlier.

But this, Bell claims, does not mean that South Africa is winning the war against child labour, a problem he says is growing on a global scale. He points out that it is now estimated that India has more than 13 million children, many between the ages of seven and 14 working in sometimes horrendous conditions.

Governments, he maintains, are also complicit in creating these conditions. European and other industrialised countries, as well as others, subsidise exports that undermine local products. So, for example, everything from chickens to canned tomatoes, chocolates or biscuits arrives on local supermarket shelves at prices domestic producers cannot compete with.

The South African government, too, falls down in terms of support for job security, especially in agriculture, the most labour intensive sector of the economy. While assistance - calculated on a per worker, per annum basis - to the aluminium smelters is estimated at R1m and aid to the motor industry is at least R50 000, agriculture’s share is less than R3 000.

* Add your voice or just drop Terry a labour question. Follow Terry on twitter @telbelsa.

inside labour  |  labour


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