Unemployment is the biggest threat to peace and security in South Africa, and the overriding challenge facing us is that the government does not listen to the voices of the unemployed, only to those who are detached from the conditions faced by the unemployed.
We, the Langeberg Unemployed Forum, see official reports mentioning seven million unemployed people in South Africa, but that figure is probably higher from our assessment.
We are speaking of mass unemployment in a country where unemployment should be close to zero. The only people who should be unemployed are those who do not want to work or cannot work.
I ask myself: how do the politicians of this country sleep at night when they have watched over a system that has resulted in this shocking situation?
I am aware of the recent looting in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. I do not condone it; crime has no place in our country. The hungry and the homeless should not have to turn to crime to survive. But I do understand that poverty can lead to crime – when you are hungry and have no prospects of earning money to put food on your table, crime can be seen as an option. We need to find lasting solutions.
If we are to ensure a better rate of employment, the country needs a thriving economy. If the unemployed want jobs, we have a role to play in ensuring the survival of businesses that create job opportunities.
Employees also must work with businesses to find better ways of ensuring jobs. As such we have been constantly appealing to the government to release the unemployed and willing employers from the shackles of the country’s labour laws.
We are hungry and poor because South Africa’s labour laws take away our right to decide for ourselves what level of wages and conditions of employment we are prepared to accept.
Our potential employers’ hands are tied, too, as the labour laws in certain instances punish them if they decide to employ us. These laws do not allow employers to make agreements with us directly around issues such as paying less than the minimum wage, longer working hours, and 24-hours’ notice if we are not getting on well together.
But there is a simple solution that we believe would rapidly reduce unemployment: the Job Seekers Exemption Certificate. This is a legal document that could release long-term unemployed people from the shackles of the labour laws without affecting the protection that these laws give to them.
Our view is that with this certificate an unemployed person can ask anyone for a job and is free to enter a contract with a prospective employer with any wage and any conditions of employment they are happy to accept. The certificate should be valid for at least two years to give the holder time to change jobs easily, gain skills and build a work record.
We want the government to write the certificate into law.
Our laws should not make a working relationship so costly that employers are overly careful about employing people, to the detriment of those who need and want to be employed.
We need jobs. We need jobs to keep hunger at bay, to keep our families clothed, housed and fed. Jobs ensure survival and security. And they protect our dignity, to which we have an inalienable right. DM