Saturday, February 7, 2015

Temba A Nolutshungu — Big Government and Big Labour: the unholiest of alliances


Labour unions have played an important economic, political and social role in the transition from apartheid to democracy. When black South Africans were barred from political participation during the apartheid years and the apartheid government explicitly and forcefully denied black South Africans a voice, labour unions effectively assumed a decidedly political role in the broader anti-apartheid struggle.

In post-apartheid South Africa, labour unions continue to play an intricate role in the political makeup. But, given their role – to represent vested interest groups, namely the organised employed – and considering the chronic unemployment problem in South Africa, is their on-going participation in the tri-partite alliance justifiable?

According to the latest quarterly labour force survey (QLFS), approximately 5.151 million working aged adults were officially unemployed. This equates to an official unemployment rate of 25.4%. However, a further 3.285 million did not actively search for work in the month prior to the survey but indicated they would work if there were jobs available. If we include these discouraged work seekers, the total number of unemployed increases to 8.436 million and the unemployment rate shoots to the more sombre but realistic rate of 35.8%.

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