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Inside labour: State of labour is a vote of no confidence

Jul 30 2017 06:00
Terry Bell

On August 8 there will be a massive media buzz about Parliament – the focus will be on the no-confidence debate in President Jacob Zuma and whether or not the voting will be secret or open.

However, on the same day, there will be another announcement that will more accurately reflect the state of the nation and how life is experienced by the majority of South African citizens.

This is the quarterly Labour Force Survey, which was supposed to have been released on July 25.

This survey, which will detail the awaited unemployment statistics for the second quarter of this year, was postponed because “the processing of data has taken longer than anticipated”.

Perhaps understandably, rumours of a conspiracy began circulating as soon as the postponement was announced. But such postponements are not unusual and the release date is probably coincidental.

However, the figures will almost certainly show that the upward trajectory reflected in the first quarter is continuing.

The first-quarter statistics were troubling – they revealed, in official terms, the highest level of joblessness in 13 years.

Few commentators and economists feel there will be any improvement announced on August 8, unless there has been some serious massaging of the data.

When the postponement was announced, we were also hit with the news of the possible loss of 2 651 jobs at the Bokoni platinum mine in Limpopo, which is scheduled to be put on “care and maintenance”.

This announcement followed the warning last month from AngloGold Ashanti about the possible retrenchment of more than 8 500 mine workers.

Such large-scale job losses make the news, however, most of the very many cases of steady employment attrition don’t.

It should also not be forgotten that, to be officially regarded as employed, means you only have to have worked for one hour during the week surveyed.

If that definition is extended to anyone who ekes out a bare living earning less than R1 000 a month – a reflection of hidden unemployment – it is clear that more jobs are being lost and the majority of South Africans are now jobless.

This is also reflected in the total earnings figures for the first quarter of this year – there was a decrease of R19.4 billion.

This reduction in buying power is then reflected in the retail sector.

A classic example was provided this week by an established business in Cape Town that registered a decline of R1.2 million in turnover this year. Added to this, five of the company’s 25 long-serving employees retired over the past 18 months, but only two have been replaced.

The managing director explains the vicious circle: “Our turnover is down, so VAT to government is down. And because our profits have fallen and there are fewer staff, there is also less tax income.”

As one leading commentator has noted, government could soon be bankrupt.

This economic reality will have a potentially horrendous effect on probably 80% of the population, and the August 8 Labour Force Survey should contain some indication of how far we are along that road. Because of this, it deserves more prominence than the promised circus in Parliament.

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