South African workers have no reason to cheer at Statistics SA’s latest Quarterly Employment Statistics (QES) survey released on Tuesday 27 March 2018.
The headline figures – that 81 000 new non-agricultural jobs were created between September and December 2017 and that employment increased from 9 716 000 in September 2017 to 9 797 000 in December 2017 – sounds promising, but these stats are highly misleading.
The more realistic figure in the report is that year-on-year employment trends, reveal a much lower increase of only 18 000 new jobs, up just 0.2%, between December 2016 and December 2017.
This is because in the fourth quarter of every year we see a jump in employment, thanks to shops hiring additional staff to handle the Christmas rush. Many of those staff will have long ago been retrenched by now, as the next quarterly report will show.
The is why what Stats SA terms the “trade” sector, the third biggest, which employs 2.15-million people, 22% of all formally employed South Africans, shows by far the biggest percentage increase in jobs over the quarter – 56 000 – which is 70% of the total increase of 81 000 in all non-agriculture sectors.
Of the eight sectors into which Stats SA defines, the biggest – “community services” — essentially public-sector employees — accounts for 2.6 million people employed, 27% of the total. This sector added just 21,000 jobs from the previous quarter, but a mere 7,000 from the previous year.
The second biggest sector is business services, which accounts for 23% of SA’s formal jobs at 2.2-million people. This grew by 28,000 jobs in the quarter and 7,000 in the year from December 2016.
Four of the most important other sectors however reported declines in job numbers. The construction sector shed 19,000 jobs over three months and 11,000 jobs over the year. Transport saw 3000 jobs disappear. Mining and quarrying lost 7000 jobs over the quarter, 3,000 over the year and 36 000 since June 2015, when the QES survey was instituted.
Most alarming is that manufacturing, although gaining 4000 jobs over the last quarter, shed 6,000 jobs over the year.This confirms the ongoing deindustrialisation of the economy and the job loss bloodbath which is hitting this crucial sector of the economy.
The main reason however for workers to see no evidence of any real progress in the fight to save and create jobs is that 18 000 new jobs in a year, is a tiny drop in the ocean in the context of the a total of 9.2 million people who were unemployed in that same fourth quarter of 2017, amounting to 36.3% by the more realistic expanded definition which includes people who have stopped looking for work.
18 000 is still minute when seen against the 5.9 million people covered in the official definition of unemployment which includes only those who are not employed but actively looking for jobs. This 27.7% unemployment rate is among the highest in the world.
SAFTU has no reason to change its view that the South African economy is in free-fall, with no sign of recovery, and, as always it is the working class and the poor who suffer most as a result. The crisis has created an swelling army of unemployed, temporarily employed, part-time, casual and marginalised workers who live in deep poverty.
It is a colossal human tragedy, from which there is at the moment no escape, given the continuation by the ANC government of policies which are the reason for this catastrophe – the adoption of neoliberal, free-market policies as enshrined in GEAR and the NDP
These have been policies to defend and promote the interests of a small elite of super-rich monopoly capitalist exploiters and thy have led to South Africa becoming the most unequal society in the world.
New President Ramaphosa has promised a new dawn, yet he is the champion of that very rich capitalist class of which he is now a multi-billionaire member. His first aim is to pacify the credit ratings agencies and he has already persuaded them that South Africa is a now a safer place to invest their billions.
Yet has has done another to reassure the workers and the poor that they are going to new a new dawn. On the contrary he promises business as usual, with a poverty minimum wage for workers, restrictions of the constitutional right to strike and higher VAT for consumers and cuts in spending of services to poor communities.
This not only brings misery to millions of the poor but makes the economic crisis even deeper, because of the huge numbers of consumers with hardly any money to spend on goods and services, which leads in turn to a vicious circle in which demand falls further, even more jobs are lost and more workers plunged into poverty.
SAFTU is more determined than ever to fight for truly radical economic transformation, as mandated by its founding Congress which declared:
“The federation will oppose any attempt to resolve this crisis within the parameters of a capitalist system which has proved that it has no solutions. It is the working class who produce the country’s wealth and who are the main consumers of its commodities.
“The only way out of the crisis has to be through a mass movement of the working-class based on a program guided by the principles of Marxism-Leninism for the nationalisation of the mineral and manufacturing monopolies, the banks and the land, in line with the aspiration expressed in the Freedom Charter.”