Unemployed forum: Give us the rights that the labour
laws stripped from us

Xolile Mpini, Vuyo Mruba and Denki Selani

Thu Jun 13 2019 22:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

People who employ workers are their friends, not their enemies. Legislation such as the
minimum wage turns them against each other.

Dear government, give us back the rights that labour laws have taken away from us. We will make our own decisions about our own lives when it comes to dealing with employers.

Or give employers, particularly small business employers, greater freedom. Take away the red tape, especially that surrounding employment. Don’t apply minimum wages and all the other red tape measures that now apply.

Without the red tape hanging over them, we could talk to employers and agree between ourselves about the pay, conditions and other matters. That way we will find jobs.

The labour laws create minimum benefits and make employers give their workers all sorts of benefits that small employers cannot afford. The policies are supposed to make employed people more secure in their jobs. What they actually do is make many people less secure and cause small employers, and households especially, to avoid employing people.

The new [Cyril] Ramaphosa administration has announced that the labour department is to be known as the “department of labour and employment”. No mention is made of unemployment!

Is there any chance that one of its responsibilities will be to change the labour environment to make space for the unemployed?

Sadly, the Langeberg Unemployed Forum knows that the answer to that question is “no”. The department will continue to see its duty to be to improve conditions for those who already have jobs.

The unemployed will remain the forgotten people of South Africa until we, the unemployed, demand that our constitutional rights are respected.

Our Constitution is often described as one of the best in the world. So why do the government and sate organisations ignore it? Read the Constitution (Section 184) and note that the South African Human Rights Commission has a duty to “promote respect for human rights and a culture of human rights” and to “investigate and to report on the observance of human rights” and “to take steps to secure appropriate redress where human rights have been violated”.

According to the latest figures from Statistics South Africa, 9.994 million people were unemployed by the end of March, including 15 000 domestic workers who became unemployed during the first three months of the year.

We believe many of the extra people who have lost their jobs were retrenched because of the national minimum wage.

You can’t expect someone who runs a small shop in Robertson to increase wages, perhaps by 50% or even more, and stay open.

People who employ workers are their friends, not their enemies. Legislation such as the minimum wage turns them against each other.

Our organisation has realised that if we do nothing the rights of the unemployed will continue to be disrespected.

The logical organisation that should assist the unemployed is the human rights commission.

We think that, according to the Constitution, the commission should already have researched the question of the huge unemployment problem in the country.

But we don’t see any sign of such an investigation.

Because of our concerns, on March 26 the Langeberg Unemployed Forum held a press conference in Cape Town to tell the media that the 40 members of the forum would proceed to the offices of the human rights commission to lodge a complaint that the labour laws and regulations adopted by Parliament are responsible for a large share of the country’s mass unemployment.

We are sill waiting for a response.

We call for better treatment of the unemployed. Our goal is to make it easier for the millions of unemployed people to access jobs.

The high unemployment rate in South Africa is caused by government policies. The government might not mean to sop 10 million people from getting jobs, but that is what has happened. The legislation and regulations are barriers between employers and people looking for jobs.

The government and the human rights commission, if they give us a hearing, will ask what we want them to do about the problem.

The answer is simple – take away the red tape burden on the people who want to give us jobs and let us make agreements with each other about conditions we both find acceptable.

The usual story is that if the government does not protect us, we will be treated badly, paid badly, or made to work long hours.

But is this worse than having no job? No money? Getting no work experience? And having the members of our community and our families look down on us because we are unemployed?

Our members will say to you that we are not children; we are not stupid. We want our freedom to choose for ourselves who to work for, at what pay and everything else to do with an employment contract.

Leave us alone and we will look after ourselves. That is our constitutional right.

Xolile Mpini, Vuyo Mruba and Denki Selani are members of the Langeberg
Unemployed Forum.