By: Langeberg Unemployed Forum (LUF)
The members of our Langeberg Unemployed Forum (LUF) cannot understand why highly paid government executives, officials, political representatives and others in the ruling party, involve themselves in stealing even more money than they already receive from taxpayers. Almost every second story we read in the press is about a corrupt act committed by the very people who are supposed to govern in a way that will protect us from criminals.
There is a saying, “set a thief to catch a thief” but that does not seem to work in South Africa. Many of the people in government, who are paid to catch thieves, set a very bad example. They become criminals themselves. That is a very bad situation for the poor and unemployed in the country. It means that the economy does not work properly and there are fewer jobs. The corruption and negative policies touch so many of the businesses that it is no wonder that there are 10 million less jobs than there should be.
We call on government to act decisively on corruption. Unfortunately, much of the corruption that is discovered is within government itself. That makes ending corruption very difficult, but it must be done for South Africa to become a safe and prosperous country. Our members look at the way government has gone backwards and ask themselves how they will ever get jobs if the country keeps going downhill.
It is worrying for them and it is worrying for their children that the numbers of unemployed keep increasing. When will the numbers start going down? The numbers are now so high that they no longer have any meaning for the unemployed. When you read the Stats SA figures, you immediately say, “Why? how can there be so many people in the country that don’t want to work.” Especially when the report says that 63.3% of the young people aged from 15 to 34 years do not have jobs. Of course, we all know it is not that those young people don’t want to work. They are desperate to work but the laws of the country are stopping them from working.
As if the unemployment rate was not already high enough the Department of Labour introduced the minimum wage. This law told young unemployed people, not in so many words, but in reality, that they are not allowed to take a job that pays less than R20 per hour (now R20.76) or R3,500 per month (now R3,600 per month). If they fined young people for taking such jobs or put them in prison for breaking the labour laws, there would be protests in the streets.
But government can keep the young people from working for low pay and under difficult conditions without creating protests, by punishing the employer and not the employee. Without looking bad, government can get the same result of stopping millions of young people from taking low paid jobs. Just make pay and conditions of work illegal for the employer to offer!
The fact that the job seeker is happy to accept such a wage offer is neither here nor there. Wham! Threaten the employer with heavy punishment and the job offer comes off the table! There is, of course, an exception. Somehow, what is illegal for the private employer is legal for government. The Expanded Government Works programme can pay R11.42 per hour.
It is a form of corruption to create legislation that has such bad results for poor unemployed people by making it illegal for them to decide for themselves what level of pay or conditions of work they are prepared to accept from private employers. The high level of many forms of corruption in government is a threat to our national security. We are saying this simply because when the country is bankrupt, the unemployed have nothing to eat, and the poor are getting poorer, violence and lawlessness will take centre stage.
Our country is facing the serious challenge of Covid- 19 and all of us are expected to compromise and understand the crisis we are in. We, the unemployed, compromised long before Covid- 19 struck. We did not put government under pressure by making unrealistic demands. Instead we proposed to government that we, the unemployed, must be given an opportunity to negotiate our own conditions of employment and wages without any interference from employment and labour inspectors.
Ideas put forward by the unemployed must be respected and tested even if government does not agree that the idea will be workable. If the idea comes from the people the government claims to represent, it must be taken seriously. We are always told that this government is the government of the people and it is a listening government.
Exempting the unemployed from the labour laws and the National Minimum Wage can make a massive difference in the lives of the unemployed. As a result of the lockdowns about three million workers are being retrenched and they will join the ranks of the unemployed. This will mean that government has no way out in dealing with unemployment in South Africa.
We want to make clear that the people we represent are unskilled and semi-skilled. The majority stand on street corners all over South Africa, waiting for a potential and generous employer to employ them so that they can feed themselves and their families.
Government proposed a Basic Income Grant and it is obvious that the unemployed will welcome such a grant, but it does not go to the root of the problem. We are a non-violent forum and the last thing we want to see is distressed people turning to violence. We therefore call on government to consider the idea of a Job Seekers Exemption Certificate as one of the solutions that can rapidly reduce the number of the unemployed in South Africa. It would reduce the pressure caused by unemployment and prevent violence from breaking out in the country. Such an exemption certificate must free the holder from labour law restrictions and give them the right to agree all parts of the wages and conditions of employment with an employer.