The Assembly of the Unemployed (AoU) reiterates that the high unemployment rate in South Africa is a major challenge for the country’s economy and society. The latest data from Statistics South Africa shows that closer to 14 million people in the country are unemployed, with a staggering unemployment rate of 42.6% in the fourth quarter of 2022 with women being more affected than men.
This International Women’s Day, we reflect on the challenges faced by South African women who are excluded from the country’s economy. According to Statistics South Africa’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey, out of the not economically active population, 2.6 million people are classified as homemakers – many of these people would readily accept decent work if on offer. 62% of jobless are under the age of 34 years, meaning young people are struggling to find sustainable employment. 78.7% have been unemployed for more than 1 year. South Africa is sitting on a ticking time bomb. Mass unemployment drives income inequalities and the erosion of the social fabric manifested in alcohol and drug abuse, growing violence and crime. Efforts are needed to create more employment opportunities, especially for women and address the root causes of gender-based violence and discrimination.
Earlier this year, when Cry of the Xcluded launched the Year of Mass Action campaign, we did emphasise that mass unemployment, where millions of people are denied work and a decent livelihood, is the foundation on which an unequal South Africa is built. We, therefore, call on the government to adopt potential job-creating alternatives that are available in addressing the unemployment crisis:
- Invest in job-creating alternatives: The government must develop a low-carbon reindustrialization programme that can create millions of jobs aimed at addressing climate change. Here we can invest in public energy, public transport, housing, and transforming agriculture. This includes the production of socially owned renewable energy and the manufacturing of solar PV and wind infrastructure. The government has failed to produce sustainable job creation programmes and we believe that they should look at alternative ideas including incorporating the Right2Work in the South African Constitution. When we demand jobs, we are not referring to precarious work, we demand decent work, where workers have security, stability, and dignity. The impact of precarious work on workers is significant. It leaves workers vulnerable to exploitation, and it makes it difficult for them to plan for their future and make ends meet.
- Implement Basic Income Grant: These staggering unemployment figures are an indication that there’s an urgent need for the introduction of a decent basic income grant of at least R1500 per month. This will not only improve peoples’ standard of living and lift people from starvation but it can help to stimulate the local economy and improve productivity – which is where jobs are created.
- End to budget cuts: The decline in employment in the public sector is worrying as we see 122 000 less jobs than in the 3rd quarter, which is indicative that the government is not filling posts when people resign or retire. All of this has to do with holding down the public sector wage bill. The attacks on public sector workers is an attack on the provision of public services and an attack on their unemployed family members. Women who are currently at 51% in the unemployment figures are compromised and made vulnerable to violence and exclusion. They must fill the gap of the retreating state, providing more care to their families and the broader society. They become the doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, cooks and cleaners – the ones who must pick up the pieces as our communities collapse. An end to budget cuts also means expanding the public sector as we need many more teachers, health care and municipal workers. Just one example, there are approximately 70 000 community healthcare workers who can be employed directly by the state at a living wage, this will not only reduce unemployment levels, but it will also improve the public health sector.
- Government must become the employer of last resort: The government must employ everyone willing and able to work and pay them a living wage. There is lots of work to be done in fixing the country. The expanded public works can be the basis to do this, but it needs to be transformed and improved in terms of the working conditions. This means permanent employment at a living wage. SA’s economy is stagnant and will remain so as long as the government fails to crowd in investment by directing public resources to job-creating sectors such as expanding public transport, investing in fixing Eskom and other SOEs and fixing our municipalities.
- Tax the rich!: Millions of South Africans go to bed hungry each week, while the rich siphon billions of rands to tax safe havens through profit shifting and wage evasion. Research has shown that halting profit shifting by transnational corporations would help to raise more than R100 billion in revenue each year. We also know that a small net wealth tax on the top 1% can raise more than R140 billion annually. This is not even mentioning the billions lost to corruption each year. Hence, we call on the government to stop the looting and to tax the rich who have become even richer during the Covid-19 pandemic to address the deep inequalities and hunger in our country.
If the government fails to look at the alternatives, the jobs crisis will be with us for decades. The AoU believes we need a government which will take the drastic measures this crisis requires. Neoliberal policies and systematic corruption create the conditions of keeping the majority on the periphery of economic activity as they cripple the country and ordinary South Africans are suffering. Privatisation through liberalisation of key economic sectors and depending on public-private partnerships will further erode the possibility of creating decent work and providing a living wage, which almost 14 million unemployed people desperately need. The South African government continues to fail to deliver on its promise of a better life for all.