COSATU statement on the 2017 fourth quarter unemployment figures

The Congress of South African Trade Unions has noted the latest quarterly labour force survey that show that the unemployment rate has dropped to 26.7% in the fourth quarter of 2017. This is not surprising when considering the fact that the fourth quarter numbers, include a lot of festive season temporary work. The real test on the direction of unemployment will be when the first quarter numbers of 2018 are released.

The South African government has so far shown no plan to resolve South Africa’s structural unemployment. Our jobs are disappearing as a result of changes in the structure of the economy and also because the available labour does not have skills or education to occupy existing posts.

Since the adoption of the NDP by the ANC led government in 2013, the country’s fifth administration continues to preside over economic contraction and job-losses. The Statistician General Risenga Maluleke has accordingly pointed out that these latest figures are 12 percentage points away from the 14% targeted by the NDP by 2020.The NDP is failing the people of South Africa and this staunch adherence to a failing vision document by the ANC government is misguided


High unemployment cannot be resolved through wishful thinking but needs deliberate planning and imaginative policy formulation by government. Traditionally, the SA economy was based on export of raw materials in the agricultural and mineral sector underpinned by cheap labour and slave wages and not on technology. The majority of the population was discouraged and prevented from occupying skilled jobs through the colour bar act.  The results of discriminatory labour market policies have resulted in huge skills deficit and lack of competitiveness that is caused by lack of investment in education and skills and technology by SA companies.  The legacy of discrimination has continued to exist with mainly black and coloured workers being restricted to manual labour with lack of training and education.

COSATU continues to argue that the advent of the NDP represented an end to the attempt of forging an alignment of the macroeconomic policies, in particular the monetary policy, with the industrial policy and job-creation as proposed in the New Growth Path. The NDP chapters on macroeconomic and labour market policies shows the ANC government’s stubborn adherence to failed conservative policies inherited from GEAR.


One of the major policy failures has been government’s tolerance of free movement of capital. This has  also taken away government’s power to regulate export of capital and to limit imports. This gave space to SA companies to deprive SA of the much needed capital.

COSATU continues to argue that black Africans and coloureds require more intervention from the state to help them move out of poverty compared to white and Indians/Asians. This means that we must urgently revisit our employment equity laws and BEE laws to re-define and establish a hierarchy of historically disadvantaged persons and economically marginalised to ensure that the beneficiaries are firstly blacks and coloured and then others.  Current policies have clearly benefited white women and Indians /Asians and have entrenched the apartheid colour bar rule in the workplace whereby firstly white women are given training and promotion opportunities followed by Indians.

Government needs to convene a Job Summit so that we can also discuss and develop responses to automation and mechanisation in the country. The technological advancement in robotics, automation and artificial intelligence will require a government led intervention to cushion the workers from its effects.

We also need to debate the changes in the South African Labour law that currently allows firms to dismiss workers because of adoption of technology; section 189’s definition of operational requirements includes adoption of technology. Already the law favours the replacement of labour with capital/machines.

We want this law to be changed in order for all retrenchments to be referred to CCMA for approval than merely notification and consultation. Currently employers are incentivised to use technology to get rid of labour with impunity and the CCMA has little role to play other than committing parties to consult. The tax laws must also be changed to ensure that those firm that use machines to replace labour are denied tax deductions.

The current law is very generous to firms or capital because for example re-skilling of workers is optional. Despite firms receiving tax credits for training they are not interested in re-skilling workers.

The current ongoing political gridlock is also not helping the situation and will only make the situation worse. The sooner it is resolved the better.

Issued by COSATU

Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson)

Tel: 011 339 4911
Fax: 011 339 5080
Cell: 060 975 6794