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EMPLOYMENT: Jobs Recession Looms, Trade Unions in Crisis

 





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South Africa’s employment fell by an annualised rate of 0.2% in April 2013 according to the latest Adcorp Employment Index.

The economy shed 3 220 jobs in April 2013, with most of them coming from the permanent and full-time work sector, according to the index.

While 5 891 jobs were created in the informal sector, employment in the formal sector fell by 9 111 jobs.

Job losses were largely focussed on the retail and wholesale trade, and the transport and logistics sectors – which lost 6000 and 5 000 jobs respectively.

“Although these job losses were largely offset by job creation in the government sector – which created approximately 6 000 jobs, the demand for high-skilled workers remains strong,” says Loane Sharp, Labour Economist for Adcorp. “The economy shed 18 000 low-skilled jobs during the period, and created 16 000 high-skilled jobs.”

In-depth analysis of South Africa’s trade unions also revealed a sector in crisis. Currently only one in four workers (25.5% of the workforce) is unionised, and this figure is declining slowly but steadily.

“Only 43% of the people who join the workforce for the first time are joining trade unions. In South Africa’s five most populous sectors – trade, finance, manufacturing, construction and private households, which account for two-thirds of total employment in South Africa – the unionisation rate is just 11.0%,” Sharp explains.

Membership is dominated by the public sector which reflects increased union figures – up to 1.7 million since 2000. This is in stark contrast to membership from the private sector workforce – down from 1.79 million to 1.76 million.

“The retail and finance sectors, which historically have provided high rates of job growth, are maintaining union membership. However, the percentage is low – only 8-9% of employees who join these workforces join the unions,” says Sharp.

In sectors where government plays a significant role, figures show a clear picture of high union membership – above 75% in both mining and government.

With labour unrest remaining high, trade unions have a number of challenges ahead – high organising and canvassing costs, encroachment from rival trade unions, low turnout and participation rates during strikes, and the tactical use of violence and intimidation of non-members.

Adcorp’s index shows that this is fertile ground for the emergence of rival trade unions, most of them splinter-groups from the otherwise dominant trade union. Rival trade unions have now emerged in the mining, manufacturing, healthcare, teaching and transport sectors, and they are growing rapidly at the expense of the previously dominant trade unions.

All factors indicate a bleak future for trade unions – the weakness of the domestic economy continues to place pressure on the worker / employer relationship. In addition, constraints on consumer pockets may make union members rethink their R754 annual contribution to union subscriptions and dues.

 
 
 
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