DA drops the ball on jobs

The Witness - - OPINION - John Kane-Ber­man

“LIB­ERAL” has for long been a swear word in South Africa. So it is good to see the leader of the Demo­cratic Al­liance, Mmusi Maimane, us­ing the term to de­scribe his party’s be­liefs and promis­ing that “we will never aban­don our lib­eral val­ues”.

The DA’s ex­plicit re­jec­tion at its re­cent fed­eral congress in Pre­to­ria of racial quo­tas is some­thing lib­er­als should ap­plaud.

Less de­serv­ing of ap­plause is the res­o­lu­tion the congress adopted to in­tro­duce a “job­seek­ers’ ex­emp­tion cer­tifi­cate” should the DA ever come to power.

Although at first sight such a cer­tifi­cate might seem a good idea in that hold­ers thereof will be able to ac­cept wages be­low the na­tional min­i­mum of R3 500 due to come into op­er­a­tion some­time this year, the con­di­tions at­tached to ob­tain­ing it are oner­ous and un­nec­es­sary. They are also un­fair to some of those the cer­tifi­cate is pre­sum­ably de­signed to help, in­clud­ing first-time job­seek­ers.

First-time job­seek­ers ac­count for al­most 40% of un­em­ploy­ment. Many of these will be school leavers and oth­ers en­ter­ing the labour mar­ket for the first time.

Yet none of them will be el­i­gi­ble for the cer­tifi­cate un­til they have been un­em­ployed for 12 months or more. This is a harsh re­stric­tion to im­pose upon peo­ple look­ing for their first job.

It also adds a ma­jor qual­i­fi­ca­tion to Maimane’s as­ser­tion at the end of last year that “we must re­form our labour mar­ket for young peo­ple to find em­ploy­ment af­ter leav­ing school”.

Such young peo­ple are now be­ing told that if they find a job with an em­ployer will­ing to pay only an amount less than the min­i­mum, they must wait a year be­fore they can take that job.

First-time job­seek­ers are not the only ones who will fall foul of the 12-month re­stric­tion, for it will ap­ply to all ages. On the of­fi­cial def­i­ni­tion of un­em­ploy­ment, more than two mil­lion peo­ple have been out of work for less than a year.

On the ex­panded def­i­ni­tion, which counts dis­cour­aged work­ers as among the un­em­ployed, that num­ber rises to around three mil­lion. Pe­nal­is­ing all these job­seek­ers be­cause they have not been un­em­ployed for long enough to qual­ify for the cer­tifi­cate seems per­verse.

Nor is this the only ob­jec­tion to the DA’s pro­posal.

The cer­tifi­cate is pre­sum­ably some­thing that some bu­reau­crat will pro­vide once the ap­pli­cant has pro­duced proof that he or she has been un­em­ployed for more than a year. How many ad­di­tional bu­reau­crats will be hired to vet ap­pli­cants and is­sue cer­tifi­cates?

Who will pay for the travel for job­seek­ers to get to see them?

How long will they have to queue for? How will the nec­es­sary proof be ob­tained? From whom?

The cer­tifi­cate will be valid for only two years, af­ter which the un­em­ployed per­son will have to ap­ply again.

In a speech at the end of last year, Maimane said small busi­nesses needed max­i­mum flex­i­bil­ity to em­ploy as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble with­out be­ing “held back by re­stric­tive reg­u­la­tion and red tape”. He also said of young peo­ple emerg­ing from the coun­try’s “dys­func­tional school­ing sys­tem” that “the very last thing you need is any more ob­sta­cles put in your way of find­ing work”.

At last week’s congress, the chair­per­son of the DA’s fed­eral ex­ec­u­tive, James Selfe, said that the peo­ple the party had spo­ken to are des­per­ate to be­come em­ployed.

Yet the man­ner in which the DA now pro­poses to im­ple­ment its “job­seek­ers’ ex­emp­tion cer­tifi­cate” in­volves putting ob­sta­cles in the form of reg­u­la­tion and red tape in the way of these des­per­ate peo­ple.

The DA’s res­o­lu­tion en­dors­ing the cer­tifi­cate says it is de­signed to give ben­e­fi­cia­ries “the right to en­ter into any em­ploy­ment agree­ments with an em­ployer on any con­di­tions with which they are com­fort­able”.

Although this phrase­ol­ogy is de­signed to en­able job­seek­ers to sign em­ploy­ment con­tracts at wages be­low the statu­tory min­i­mum, the “right” it pur­ports to grant is heav­ily qual­i­fied.

Nor is there any­thing par­tic­u­larly lib­eral about a pro­posal that cre­ates a right with one hand, while on the other mak­ing its ex­er­cise de­pen­dent on a cer­tifi­cate is­sued by the gov­ern­ment.

• John Kane-Ber­man is a pol­icy fel­low at the IRR, a think-tank that pro­motes po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic free­dom.

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