By: Xolile Mpini, CEO of Langeberg Unemployed Forum
In 1994 our people were promised “a better life for all” but, instead, we have observed that the government and its officials choose to listen to the few.
Those in proximity to political power are the few who are enjoying ‘our’ democracy. If this government is one of the people, why is it so difficult for its leadership and officials to listen to the people? They do not hear when the unemployed make suggestions about what is best for them.
Those in comfortable government positions think that what is best for them is also good for the unemployed. But, like a stuck record, we will keep informing them and reminding everyone that the only solution to address the scourge of unemployment in this country is a Job Seekers Exemption Certificate (JSEC).
This certificate can give back to the unemployed their dignity and the right to accept any job offer that suits them and allows them to care for their families. It will give them a bargaining tool that allows the unemployed to argue for a dispensation that will give every single unemployed person and every potential employer they approach for employment the legal right to bargain freely with each other and enter into agreements without the fear of breaking some labour law.
When government and its economic advisers talk about minimum wages, most people say “good, now the employers will have to pay their workers more”! But they forget, or just don’t realise some important factors that occur on the ground. First, that although the government has passed a law that says the employer has to pay an hourly rate of X rand, this does not mean that the employee will receive that amount. If the employer can’t afford to pay that rate, the agreement might become fewer hours for the original pay if the employee does not lose the job altogether. In too many cases, the real minimum wage is zero.
What is usually forgotten or ignored by government planners and their advisers is that every law that increases the cost of employing people, means that someone somewhere is not going to get a job. The economists call these costs “barriers to entry into the labour market”. If these barriers to entry were not there, everyone who wants to work would have a job. If the legal barriers were removed, jobs would become available in the thousands and millions. Without these artificial barriers, there would not be more than 10 million unemployed people in the country trying to support suffering families. The Covid-19 lockdown has made many more people lose their jobs and change has become even more urgent.
The Langeberg Unemployed Forum knows very well that the people who would give jobs to the unemployed if JSEC was available are individuals, households and small businesses. For that reason, we wish to partner with other organisations that provide services and advice in these fields.
As far as we are concerned, it is important that the people who operate in this space (workers, small business, households, small farmers) should see each other as friends and partners in work, life, and business. There is a saying that if you are climbing a ladder with someone up ahead of you, the quickest way to the top is to push the person ahead of you up and not try and pull them down. We go along with that approach. The better the employer does, the better it is for the workers.
Based on our own experience, you will find unemployed people in all corners of South Africa waiting for whoever will offer them a job. With a JSEC in their hand, they will negotiate with the employer about the conditions of employment and the salary and come to an agreement. The next step will be to enter into a simple contract that records matters such as the names of the employee and employer, JSEC number, start date, salary, working hours, rate of pay for overtime, number of working days leave, details of sick leave, probation period, notice and details of termination. JSEC wants to legalise that space and hence we call on the government to take the idea very seriously. The unemployed want to claim their dignity back and enjoy democracy like those who are employed.
JSEC has a very big advantage over all other proposals for making the labour laws more friendly to the millions of unemployed people and the employers who would employ them if conditions were different. Implementing it will take away the stress from employers who do not know the labour laws and are afraid to employ because they might make mistakes.
A simple piece of legislation will be needed to create space for the gap in the labour market that can be filled by the unemployed who now number many more than 10 million people. Another great advantage is that the call for JSEC to be implemented will not take away any of the privileges that the labour laws provide for people that already have jobs. Under these circumstances we are not trampling on the toes of members of labour unions.
We received an email from a lady farmer whose staff destroyed the farming enterprise and destroyed their own jobs. How many people in the country have destroyed their jobs in that manner? That is called biting the hand that helps you to feed yourself and your family! Our forum warns against that kind of negative behaviour.
It is our intention to work for better understanding amongst all individual South Africans so that they support each other and do not pull each other down.
Contact Xolile Mpini on 073 279 8189 if you wish to support this initiative. All assistance and input welcomed.