A Catastrophic Year for the Unemployed

Xolile Mpini

Tue Dec 14 2021 22:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

Langeberg Unemployed Forum calls for a reversal of tragic, calamitous and outrageous national jobless situation

It’s been a catastrophic year for South Africa’s unemployed people.

The Langeberg Unemployed Forum that represents South Africans without jobs, has called again on policymakers to free the unemployed from the shackles of labour legislation.

The unemployment rate, that rocketed to 34.4 percent in the second quarter of this year, has continued to climb with bull-headed determination. It had reached a new record high of 39.4 percent by the end of September, the highest it’s been since records were first kept 13 years ago and giving South Africa the shameful distinction of having the highest jobless rate in the world.

Tragic, calamitous, and outrageous

The Langeberg Unemployed Forum points out that those figures (ie, 34.4 percent and 39.4 percent) grow to 44.4 percent and 46.6 percent respectively when discouraged workers are included in the tally of the unemployed. This brings the total number of jobless people in South Africa to 12 49 million people, more than the combined populations of Johannesburg, Soweto, Durban and Cape Town. A discouraged worker is a person who is available to work and who wants to work but is too discouraged to seek employment.

The figures are a tragedy and calamity for the unemployed, and the cause of outrage at the Langeberg Unemployed Forum.

“Policy-makers sit in comfortable chairs in plush offices paying lip-service to an apparent imperative to create jobs. Yet our jobless rate grows and grows and grows. It’s a national disgrace that nearly half of eligible workers are without employment,” says Xolile Mpini, chief executive at the LUF.

“The people are betrayed by the very leaders who are mandated to ensure that all citizens have the means to earn a living. This happens despite various clauses in our Bill of Rights that enshrine the rights of all citizens to dignity and freedom.”

There is neither dignity nor freedom in unemployment. Neither is there freedom in being denied the right to negotiate a wage that is satisfactory to both worker and job provider.

Labour legislation betrayal

Despite job-creation projects being founded across the country, the unemployment rate keeps growing. This means two things, the Forum says. First, it means we are losing more jobs than we are creating in South Africa; and second, it means that labour legislation -- and especially the legislated minimum wage -- is betraying millions of people who are desperate to work, put food on the table and a roof over their heads.

Yet, says Mpini, the solution to this crisis is quite simple. “Give unemployed people who have been unemployed for six months or more, a Job Seekers Exemption Certificate (JSEC), which exempts the unemployed from the labour laws. It must be valid for at least two years, that allows the holder to work for any wage or under any conditions they are prepared to accept. The JSEC will not affect the lives of those who already have jobs but will allow JSEC holders to make their own decisions about wages and conditions of employment.”

The Langeberg Unemployed Forum understands that two years of Covid-19 have played their part not only in eroding the broader economy, but also in chipping away at employment opportunities. However, South Africa does not bear the burden of Covid alone. Other nations, too, have experienced a Covid-related rise in joblessness. Yet South Africa’s joblessness rate outstrips every other country on earth.
Dignity and freedom

The Langeberg Unemployed Forum calls on policymakers and legislators to revisit labour legislation early in 2022 and put changes in place to get South Africa’s employment rate on an upward trajectory. The Forum also calls on government to give jobless persons the freedom to choose to work for less than minimum wage through greenlighting the Job Seekers Exemption Certificate of the Langeberg Unemployed Forum.

“The Exemption Certificate will return dignity to the 12.49 million unemployed working-age South Africans. It will do this without taking anything away from the people who already have jobs,” Mpini says.

“Let’s take a bold step into 2022 and put an end to the cluster-headache of unemployment. Let’s bring freedom and dignity back to millions who are denied it.”