Fighting Mass Unemployment


According to the expanded definition of unemployment released in the latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey by Statistics SA, 12.48 million people are now unemployed. This is a staggering figure, amounting to 46.6% of the labour force.

South Africa’s unemployment problem is a structural one. It can be traced back to its history of apartheid and the nature of the development of its economy. Structural unemployment also needs to be understood in relation to the macroeconomic policies implemented by the post-apartheid government.

In this publication, we attempted to document and propose certain interventions that are available to the government to address unemployment. It has shown that there are measures available, some of which are more likely to have an impact on unemployment numbers than others.

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One comment on “Fighting Mass Unemployment
  1. Jeremy Cronin says:

    Thanks to AIDC for championing the Right to Work discussion – and not as an alternative to, for instance, a U-BIG, but as entirely complementary in our disastrous situation. The publication could be enhanced by also looking at the important Presidential Employment Stimulus programme underway over the past 2 years in response to the C-19 pandemic. More granular focus on EPWP programmes that are working relatively well and that have been sustained over many years now (the Household Contractor -Rural Road Maintenance programme, Zibambele; or Working on Fire; or the Community Work Programme before it was beset with corruption; or many excellent projects funded by government but implemented by non-profit CBOs, etc). There are many useful lessons and building blocks here to advance towards the objective of government as employer of last resort.

    The way the publication is organised it seems to suggest that the critical objective for the state to become the Employer of Last Resort would be a complete departure from the experience of the EPWP. I am not sure if this is intended?

    The Argentinian Jefes programme and the Indian Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee programme are certainly interesting examples that are considered. However, as far as I understand, the Jefes programme was not sustained, and it was addressing a relatively short term crisis, and at levels of unemployment not remotely those that we have. I am much more familiar with the Indian NREG programme. Inspiring as it is, especially in its scale, it is also not a full-scale EPR – apart from the limitations noted in the AIDC publication (only 100 days and only rural), it is limited to only one member per household, and individual households are only able to benefit twice. The work is very limited with few labour protections (as compared to our EPWP programmes which no longer require being short-term, and in which rights to organise, protective gear, etc. are part parcel). NREG addresses a reality quite different from our own – the 100 days are targeted at the dry season in India when peasant households fall into desperate debt. There are many challenges and lessons positive and negative with SA’s public employment programmes (although along with NREG they are rated as major global innovators by the ILO). But the major challenge is budgetary allocation – our EPWP programmes (like our (re-)industrialisation efforts) have never had the fiscal support that would enable a major transformation step-up. This is why the AIDC publication is right to begin to flag the important contribution that MMT theorists like Wray have been making to the debate around government as employer of last resort. An unblinkered and constructive discussion on the degree to which an MMT approach is sustainable in the South African reality as part of a necessary wider macro-economic debate, is absolutely imperative. Alas, within Treasury and through much of government, the private sector-dominated labour market is still seen as the only source of “real jobs”. As arch austerity proponent Trevor Manuel once said “government is not an employment agency”. Let’s advance this critical discussion!

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