State of labour is a vote of no con­fi­dence

CityPress - - Business - Terry Bell busi­ness@city­press.co.za

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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