Protecting The Employed Will Not Reduce Unemployment
I am not sure how the COSATU march this week is being measured in terms of whether it was successful or not. The fact that it was a mixed cause, one protesting against e-tolling and the other in support of their call to eradicate labour brokers, makes it even harder to measure. We need to create more jobs in this country, and that is evident. We also need to protect labour from being exploited, as that would be in contradiction of the spirit of the nation as expressed through our constitution. To successfully create employment, we have to deconstruct the belief system of “go to school, get good grades and have a job for life”.
Yes, we need to sort out the fundamental problem, which is a sound education that can in turn lead to people being able to constantly learn the new skills that will be required on the job. What we also need to sort out is this job for life mind-set though that is getting us stuck, as that is how people are perceiving a permanent contract of employment. A permanent contract of employment does not mean the company is obligated to employ you for the rest of your life, no matter what. A person on a permanent contract of employment, is just as vulnerable as a person on a fixed term contract of employment from a job security perspective.
Think about the staff members at Velvet Sky for instance, who in their minds had a permanent job at the beginning of February. They were under the illusion of having job security until the low cost airline grounded its planes in February when Velvet Sky had failed to pay their service provider. From an employer’s perspective, that is the uncertainty we are living in today. We need to be flexible enough to adapt to our changing conditions in order to be able to survive, as opposed to perish, be you an employee or employer.
Unions do well to give a voice to the collective, and they therefore act in the best interest of their members. Employers need their people in order for the business to grow, so they should also act in the best interest of their people if they want to retain talent. In theory, unions and business are on the same side as they are acting in the best interest of the same people, so where does it all go wrong?
Looking at the stats of the last quarter of 2011 South Africa is creating jobs. But we are not creating enough jobs relative to unemployment and the jobs we are creating are by government employing people in public services. That is not sustainable because for government to continue doing this the tax payer has to carry that. We need labour practices that support businesses in taking risks if we want business to be part of the creating employment solution. We should not be promising people a job for life, we should be promising an opportunity of a lifetime to be part of delivering on a fixed deliverable.
If we know what the deliverable is, and agree to make it happen, it gives a focus to what needs to be done and by whom, making performance management possible. How much more productive would we all be if we were on fixed term contracts, be you a blue collar worker or white collar worker, with this deliverable in mind? No business can grow without the retention of its talented people, so there is an incentive for an employer to keep you if you add value. Maybe as employees and prospective employees we also need to start thinking differently if we want to tackle the unemployment problem. You don’t create employment by protecting the jobs of those that are employed.