Con­sent­ing adults

Finweek English Edition - - BUSINESS -

WHY OUR LABOUR LAWS DON’T MAKE ANY SENSE

At my kids’ school car­ni­val re­cently, my seven-year-old daugh­ter Kayla won a prize at one of the booths. She wasn’t happy though. The booth had run out of prizes for girls, and she had to de­cide be­tween ac­tion fig­ures, toy guns and soc­cer balls. She didn’t like any­thing. So my wife came up with a bright idea.

“Why don’t you choose that Hero Fac­tory toy?” she said, point­ing to a brightly coloured pack on the top shelf.

“But I don’t like Hero Fac­tory!” Kayla protested. “Why would I want that?”

“You’re right, you don’t like Hero Fac­tory,” my wife replied, “but your brother Jay­den is to­tally crazy about it. Why don’t you take the Hero Fac­tory toy now and then swop it for some­thing that you want from Jay­den when you get home?”

It was a good plan and Kayla im­me­di­ately saw the value in it. A few hours later, Jay­den was hap­pily play­ing with his new toy and Kayla came skip­ping past me with a big smile on her face. “So what did you get for it?” I asked.

“This!” she yelled ex­cit­edly, point­ing to her open mouth. In­side was a big wad of sticky chew­ing gum. “It pops in your mouth! Cool, hey?”

It wasn’t cool. “That’s crazy,” I rep­ri­manded her. “The Hero Fac­tory toy costs about R100 in the shops and that chew­ing gum is only about R20. You got a bad deal!” I thought it would be a good moment to teach my daugh­ter about the f ine art of ne­go­ti­a­tion. So I told her to think about the “value of your of­fer­ing to the other per­son be­fore de­cid­ing what you want in re­turn.” I told her that be­cause her brother was be­sot­ted with Hero Fac­tory, she could have got a lot more from him in the ex­change.

I left her to pon­der her mis­take, con­tent in the knowl­edge that I had im­parted a valu­able life les­son to my young daugh­ter. My con­tent­ment didn’t last long, how­ever.

The next thing I knew, my house had be­come a war zone. “You cheated me!” screamed Kayla, chas­ing af­ter her brother. “No, I didn’t!” he yelled back, “You took the deal, you can’t take it back now!”

He was right of course. I should have known bet­ter. In ret­ro­spect, the en­su­ing fight was both pre­dictable and avoid­able. I should have just kept quiet and left my two kids alone, each con­tent in the deal they had ne­go­ti­ated be­tween them­selves. A les­son for our labour min­is­ter We all know that un­em­ploy­ment is a mas­sive prob­lem in South Africa. In fact, it is prob­a­bly the big­gest prob­lem we face since it is the source of many other ma­jor other prob­lems, in­clud­ing crime and poverty. It goes with­out say­ing that our labour min­is­ter should be do­ing ev­ery­thing in her power to ad­dress the prob­lem. The prob­lem is that most of the Government’s in­ter­ven­tions in the labour mar­ket, while well-in­ten­tioned, are de­struc­tive.

Let’s look at the essence of the em­ploy­ment con­tract. As an em­ployee I un­der­take to pro­vide my em­ployer with my pro­duc­tive out­put for a cer­tain num­ber of hours ev­ery

Dr Gavin Sy­manowitz is an ac­tu­ary and founder of Feed­back­Rocket.com, an award­win­ning on­line in­no­va­tion that en­ables anony­mous man­age­ment feed­back.

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