Pretoria – President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday opened a jobs summit in Pretoria by calling on the country’s trade unions to help government tackle the issue of unemployment and realise its ambitious target of achieving five million new jobs by 2020.
Zuma called the Presidential Labour Summit on Job Creation to rope in South Africa’s organised labour movement on government’s plans to respond to the unemployment crisis, which was exacerbated by the 2008 global economic meltdown.
More than 900 000 South Africans lost their jobs between 2008 and 2009, while some companies continue to cut staff due to rising costs of oil and energy.
Last month Zuma held similar discussions with top business leaders during which he outlined response measures to the problem and how government planned to use the New Growth Path to regain the lost jobs and create thousands of new ones.
In opening the meeting on Tuesday, Zuma acknowledged that while South Africa’s economy experienced strong growth prior to the economic crises that hit world markets, government did not do well in meeting its obligations on jobs and fighting poverty.
Among those who attended the summit were a delegation from the country’s biggest trade union federation Cosatu, the Federation of Unions of South Africa, (Fedusa) and the National Council of Trade Unions (Natcu) and several Cabinet ministers.
Cosatu has been vocal on the issue of labour brokers and its president, Sdumo Dlamini, said they would be raising the matter with Zuma.
Discussions were also expected to centre on the New Growth Path and how it will contribute towards the creation of green jobs and the state’s interventions in the form of wage subsidies for employed youth and loans for companies in distress.
“We have to put our heads together as partners and compatriots to find a solution. We have a good track record already of working together over many years. Social dialogue has been put to the test internationally over the past three years due to the international economic crisis and the challenges that this placed on organised business and labour,” Zuma said.
He said the issue of mass unemployment in South Africa, especially that of youth, had led to inequality and marginalisation. This was made worse by several structural challenges in the economy that had led to many people being excluded from the country’s economic activities.
“There is no sharper sign of exclusion than exclusion from the economy. For too many South Africans, this exclusion means struggling alone in poverty and dependency and undermines human dignity.”
Zuma outlined several interventions which he said had helped South Africa “respond well” to the economic crisis. These include an intensive public investment programme, efforts to cushion the poor through expanding access to social grants, the loans provided by the Industrial Development Cooperation to small business and the training layoffs scheme introduced in 2009 to prevent retrenchments.
As a result of the scheme, more than 4 000 jobs were saved between March and September 2009, e said Zuma.
The IDC is also expected to roll out a further R25 billion over the next five years for green economic projects from a dedicated green economy fund.
The President went on to say that for government to achieve its employment creation targets, it needed to bring many young people into economic activity as well as in long-term employment. He added that the rate of youth unemployment was unacceptably high.
Authorities were interested in hearing the views of the trade union movement on how the labour absorption of young people can be increased at a level that will decrease youth unemployment.
But Cosatu said the issue of skills and youth unemployment was not the major problem facing the country and blamed structural “deficiencies” in the economy as the cause of unemployment.
“Organised labour is ready to partner with government based on the need to create decent jobs but we will not divert from the core issues that stop the economy from being productive, we need a proper framework,” said the federation’s president.
Dlamini said Cosatu took the summit very seriously, as it provided a rare opportunity to discuss issues that affect both the government and the labour movement.
“Cosatu is confident that this summit will not just be a talk shop but will be able to find solutions to our problems,” he added.
Fedusa and Nactu said it was unacceptable that 17 years into democracy, South Africa was still faced with relatively high unemployment figures. They both called on the state to address the wide ranging economic imbalances, poverty and income gap. – Chris Bathembu, BuaNews