I strongly believe, after having practised labour law for thirty-five years and been extremely involved with, small businesses are the proper conduit for the youth to enter the job market. With the stringent labour laws and harsh regulatory environment, these small businesses over the past ten years are becoming more and more reluctant to open the door to allow the youth with no skills to enter employment. These small businesses were in fact the chosen path that many of us had to travel. Even when we had the education and the CV no one wanted to take the youth because they lacked job experience. It was only the small business sector who would take the chance and would upskill the unskilled.
As an anecdotal story when I was sixteen I went to a restaurant asking for a job as a waiter and when I explained that I had no experience they said they couldn’t help me. I retorted by saying that they don’t need to pay me, they merely had to give me the chance to prove myself and that I would work for the “tips” received every Saturday evening. It was the thought of no payment that paved the way for me to get my job and for me to gain the skills and prove myself to my future employer. This arrangement of tips only, did not last all that long as when I had proved myself I could move into their formal structure. This type of arrangement is not allowed today, as it would be a breach of a whole host of our labour laws.
An excellent article by Ayabonga Cawe leads us to think about the plight of Anthea Malwandle who has a B-Tech Chemical Engineering qualification but no job. Again, I must outline that I regularly speak to small firms in this industry who would be excited to have someone with those qualifications but are too scared to enter into the employment agreement.
The common refrain used is that it is easier to get a divorce than to dismiss. The statistics of youth unemployment are over fifty percent and it cannot be business as usual. There must be exemptions from hiring and firing for small businesses and there must be more encouragement all round. The regular harassment by Inspectorate of the Bargaining Councils and the Department of Labour merely create a perception that employing is dangerous and mechanising is the right way to go. This doesn’t help us in any way.
The statement by academic Achille Mbenbe is superb, “the drama of yesterday was about being exploited as a worker; the drama of today is to do with finding someone to exploit you”. Many of our younger generation are capable, enthusiastic, energetic and educated. They merely need to get a foot in the door. There must be a complete change of environment, which will destroy the perception of the negativity of employing our children. We all know that big business is stagnating and not employing people. We also know that small businesses would like to employ but in fact have gone on an investment strike whereby they find it more profitable to invest in big business and not create more jobs themselves. The system has done this to the up and coming businesses in South Africa today. The majority of small up and coming businesses in South Africa today are in fact black businesses who could desperately do with the exemptions that I speak about.
I deal with small black business every day and I hear the constant groan about how they are being harassed by the Inspectorate, the Bargaining Councils, The Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration and a whole host of other regulations which bog them down to the point of despair.
Again we see much pressure placed on A-typical employment which is more often than not an acceptable pathway for the unskilled to gain skills. An article by Dirk Hermann refers to this and refers to the changing structure of the world of work. I was a guest of the German Department of Foreign Affairs to have a look at their world of work and to get a taste of their system I immediately noticed how they viewed the modern economy. They introduced, hundreds of years ago, a dual education system, which is still in place today, but it has been repositioned to face this shifting structure of the workplace. They are specifically trained to support the small and nimble employers.
It doesn’t help us to say that we are in a global recession and nor does it help us to get other explanations as to why we are at the height of unemployment. The only help would be to find workable solutions. We all celebrated the advent of our democracy and freedom but true freedom cannot be experienced unless our educated, capable and willing people are able to find gainful employment.