Labour department sets course for 2013


The Department of Labour has clearly marked unemployment, worker protection and working conditions as primary concerns for the new financial year.

"The spending focus over the medium term will be on protecting vulnerable workers, reintegrating work seekers into the labour market and ensuring decent work. However, in order to perform against this mandate, the officials of the Department of Labour need to be equipped, both financially and technically, to perform their duties at the respective places of employment of the people of South Africa', said Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant .

The Department of Labour has been allocated R2, 1 billion for the 2012/13, financial year.

Social partners have been called on to assist government in finding solutions to the issue of youth unemployment in the country.

The Labour department also wants more frank discussions to take place regarding the youth wage subsidy proposed last year by the National Treasury.

"This is a global challenge that we have. Unemployment in general is a problem but now it affects the very productive sector of the economy, which is the youth and we need to find ways to address it' said Labour Director General Nkosinathi Nhleko.

Speaking at the department?s Budget Vote media briefing in Cape Town, Nhleko revealed that the department had managed to save more than 18 000 jobs in the past year in the textiles industries in the Western Cape, Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal.

About 705 856 employees had accessed the Unemployment Insurance Fund benefits over the past financial year, with R5.6 billion having been dispersed.

A further R660 million had been budgeted for various training and re-integration schemes over the 2012/13 - 2014/15 medium term expenditure period to assist the unemployed.

To avoid retrenchments by struggling companies, Nhleko said more than R9 million had been spent on training allowances to participating employers and employees.

"Most of the assistance for this initiative went to the beleaguered textile industry, automotive parts manufacturers as well as hospitality business.'

Up to 793 jobs at paper company SAPPI were spared, serving as an interim relief to boost the paper sector in general.

A total of 403 482 job seekers were registered, most of whom were captured in Gauteng (135 651), followed by KwaZulu/Natal (76 261) and the Western Cape (71 571).

The department said "innovative changes' to the benefit structure of the UIF were under consideration and a bill to this effect would be introduced in due course to Cabinet and brought to Parliament thereafter.

During her official address Minister Oliphant announced that the "implementation of the Compensation Fund turnaround strategy aimed at improving and fast-tracking service delivery is at an advanced stage. It is projected that compensation benefits amounting to R3, 2 billion would be paid by the end of 2011/12 financial year'.

However the department would not be relying solely on these financial aid vehicles to assist South Africans. Promoting a culture of saving for retirement was identified as a key part of government?s broader social security reform initiative.

"An investigation has been initiated to determine the feasibility of introducing an appropriate retirement savings vehicle for vulnerable workers, especially in the farming and domestic work sectors. If we are able to put in place a retirement savings scheme for these workers, it will begin to promote a culture of saving for retirement among low income earners'.

Once amendments to the Labour Relations Amendment Bill and the Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Bill are promulgated the department is expected to "enhance protection to cover those workers who work in temporary work, in part-time work and on fixed-term contracts. It has been estimated that the number of atypical employees has grown from 1.5 million to 3.89 million between 2000 and 2010.'

"This means that approximately 28% of employed people in South Africa are in atypical employment. The extension of protection and prohibition of abusive practices experienced by these workers is therefore a very significant step.'

Speaking on the issue of workplace inspections the Minister reported a relatively high compliance rate that often reached over seventy percent. Farmers in particular were eager to comply with legal requirements, she said.

"It has also been our experience that some farmers go beyond the minimum wage and in general treat their workers with dignity. However I have also been horrified at the treatment of workers in other areas especially in regard to the living areas that they occupy'.

For this reason the Minister initiated inspection blitzes in eight provinces in the agricultural sector during the past year.

"We are embarking on a new phase of regulation of the labour market, but also a new phase of enhanced legal and social protection. These changes are necessary to deal with current realities in the South African labour market and to pursue government?s vision of employment creation and decent work" ,said Minister Oliphant.

Buanews and in-house Journalist