Sacob worried about 'restrictive' labour laws
IS THE South African labour market flexible? Although this was not the precise question asked at the recent annual SA Chamber of Business convention, held in Durban, the current labour market was in the spotlight
University of the Witwatersrand lecturer Eddie Webster suggests that in practice "there is greater flexibility in the labour market".
He says there is a fragmented labour market in the building and clothing industries. Here, workers might earn only 20% of what labourers covered by bargaining council agreements or living in urban areas do.
Try telling that to business, at least those under the Sacob and Business SA umbrella. In fact, business holds the recent plethora of labour legislation directly responsible for the lack of job creation.
Sacob president Humphrey Khoza told the largely white and male audience at the convention that government had gone too far in the regulation of labour.
"If the regulation of the labour market is not revisited, I am concerned that South Africa will pay a very heavy price in terms of lost jobs - with all of the attendant negative social consequences for aspects such as poverty and crime," he said.
Economist Azar Jammine conveyed a similar message, saying a way was needed to provide business with the incentive to use labour instead of switching to capital-intensive methods.
"This requires wage moderation and fewer rigidities in the labour market so as not to discourage employers from taking on more labour."
The extent to which Khoza's recommendations will be realised won't become clear until the presidential jobs summit scheduled for October 30.
But it would be a folly to expect government to make big changes before the upcoming elections and in view of Cosatu's new militancy, as evidenced by the recent wave of strikes.
A more worrying aspect of the conference's debate on the labour market, and indeed on other national issues, was that the black business voice was missing.
This has a lot to do with Sacob's lack of representivity, and it is perhaps also a serious indictment of Sacob's transformation record. But the question also needs to be asked why black business has not spoken out on the issue.
The question is particularly relevant in the context of the recent attack on Sacob's Business Confidence Index by Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, who said the indicator did not reflect the perceptions of black business.
Apart from murmured support for recent pieces of labour legislation, organised black business has been quiet on the matter.
The only exceptions have been individual comments from people like Johnnic chairman Cyril Ramaphosa and Don Ncube, group chairman of Real Africa.