South Africa

The big difference between ‘jobs’ and ‘work opportunities’

The ruling party’s promise to create 2.5 million “work opportunities” if re-elected is inadequate and shows a significant lack of ambition.

This is the view of Centre for Development and Enterprise executive director Ann Bernstein, who said a distinction needs to be made between “jobs” and “work opportunities”.

She explained that, in government-speak, “work opportunities” are what the expanded public works programme, including the President’s employment stimulus, provides.

They consist of temporary, sometimes part-time employment that often pays less than the national minimum wage.

“Formally speaking, these are jobs. But they are temporary jobs. How temporary? Well, the best available evidence suggests it takes about 2.8 ‘work opportunities’ to create the equivalent of one year of full-time employment,” she said.

“The stunning inadequacy of this promise in a country where millions are unemployed indicates an astonishing lack of ambition.”

Bernstein emphasised the need for more and better employment in South Africa, which boasts the smallest proportion of people engaged in income-generating work worldwide.

She said the number of people employed in South Africa has grown by 2.3 million since 2008, while the number of working-age South Africans has grown by 9.5 million. 

“Speaking broadly, the economy has created less than one new job for every four entrants to the labour market in the past 15 years,” she said.

“And the 8 million jobs needed increases by about 400,000 every year as the size of the working-age population expands.”

Bernstein said that with all the jobs needed in South Africa – which would be more like 10 million jobs if the country were to get to a 60% employment rate by 2030 – “the stunning inadequacy of the ANC’s promise is, frankly, insulting”.

“Especially if you consider that most of these ‘work opportunities’ are simply a continuation of existing programmes, so they are not net new jobs.”

Last year, labour lawyer Michael Bagraim echoed Bernstein’s concerns. He told eNCA that the Presidential Employment Stimulus is “quite frankly pie in the sky”.

President Cyril Ramaphosa promised to create 2.5 million job opportunities over the next five years. This promise sounds good but is unlikely to be fulfilled.

Bagraim said this is not a new promise, as Rampahosa has made similar commitments in nearly every State of the Nation Address he’s given.

“Let’s face it – it’s a wonderful promise, and it goes a little bit of the way to try to solve some of our unemployment,” he said.

“The real problem is that the President’s promise is not going to be fulfilled. It hasn’t been fulfilled.”

He said the ANC’s promise has two major faults that will prevent the party from improving South Africa’s unemployment rate.

The first problem is that the ANC promises to create 2.5 million “work opportunities” – not jobs. 

“A work opportunity could be 3 days, 5 days, or two months, and we don’t know what it will pay. We know that the Extended Public Works Program even pays half the minimum wage,” Bagraim said. 

“The government says it can’t afford to pay the minimum wage, so it’s going to probably be that sort of work opportunity which is not a job and is not sustainable.”

The second problem Bagraim identified is that the government is not there to create jobs. Rather, the government is there to create an opportunity for the business community to create jobs.

Bagraim explained that everywhere in the world, the business community creates jobs, while the government must create the environment for job creation. 

“By the time the government decides to move away from that concept of government creating jobs, we’ll be bankrupt, and we almost are,” he said. 

“We’ve had now just over 20 years of job losses from year to year, and it’s sad that that is happening because this is not politics – this is the living reality of South Africans,” he said. 

“So, this whole idea of the Presidential Employment Stimulus is quite frankly pie in the sky. It’s a little bit like the bullet train or the smart cities.” 


Top JSE indices