The only way that the youth wage subsidy idea would float in future is to ensure that minimum labour rights were ensured to prevent a two-tier labour system and it did not lead to “super-exploitation” of young people.
This according to the national assembly mineral resources portfolio committee chairman Fred Gona.
He said that last week’s debate on the subsidy showed that the youth wage subsidy had been turned into a political football.
“Political parties have turned this serious situation (of youth unemployment) into a political football.”
Acknowledging that it had been mooted by President Jacob Zuma and finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, Gona said: “When the president announced the government was introducing a youth wage subsidy and the minister announced the budget thereof… political parties and civil society took the matter up and turned it into a political football.”
That was quite regrettable, he said.
The way forward now was to “sit down and ally the fears that the introduction of this subsidy will lower the standards (of employment)” of existing workers and that older workers would not be displaced.
“It has to have minimum labour rights contained in it such as equal work for equal pay. We don’t want to create a second tier of the labour market.”
Last Thursday’s debate on the youth wage subsidy turned into a finger pointing exercise in which the government was accused of failing to implement its promises of “a better life for all” and the opposition were accused by government speakers of Verwoerdian recipes to resolve youth unemployment and engaging in “a blame game”.
Although Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe on Wednesday pledged that Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel would pronounce on the youth wage subsidy plan – which was first mooted by Zuma two years ago – in Thursday’s debate, Patel did not do so.
Instead of referring to a youth wage subsidy – which would imply a subsidy to employers of young people – Patel spoke instead of “exploring work seeker and work creator subsidies”.
However, he emphasised that these would have to be discussed “with stakeholders”.
Among them would be a new “youth employment committee at Nedlac”.
Patel noted that the DA provincial administration in the Western Cape had implemented a form of youth wage subsidy. However, Patel charged that despite this more than 40 000 jobs had been lost in the last year.
He said “a blame game had infused much of the discussions” around youth unemployment, suggesting that the ANC government was deliberately adopting policies “designed to keep young people out of jobs”.
Patel, who also accused the opposition of enjoying “the luxury of ignoring practical realities … if only our world was that easy”, said that the resolution of the “major challenge” of unemployment – which was a global issue – was complex and multifaceted.
“Government is working on an inclusive multi-pronged strategy… we have ramped up social dialogue,” he reported to MPs.
He made it clear that national government “cannot go the route that has been tried in the Western Cape … and has failed in the Western Cape”.
The debate was called by DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko who suggested that the government may actually be deliberately closing opportunities to youth job creation.
These included extending bargaining council agreements to non-parties and stifling Gordhan’s jobs subsidy plan.
Cope MP Nqaba Bhanga said it was “embarrassing for the minister not to respond” to the call for a youth wage subsidy, which the president himself had promised.
The ANC had slogans about job creation but did not have “a commitment to them”.
“It had promised a better life for all but “where is the better life for all?”
“The president is quiet… do we have a president in this country?” asked Bhanga, to roars of disapproval from the ANC benches.
“We deserve a president who can call the country to order.”
Buti Manamela, an ANC MP and former SACP spokesman, said of the jobs subsidy plan: “I will not swallow any pill pushed down my throat such as the quick-fix and election motivated solutions concocted by modern day Verwoerd(s).”
“I am not prepared to eat from the crumbs of the princely tables laid for those who ruled the roost then (during apartheid), and continue to do so today,” added Manamela.
Mazibuko said the “big question” was where was Gordhan at the debate on Thursday.
“Has the president muzzled him until after the votes have been counted at Mangaung?”
Noting that Cosatu appeared to be in charge of government policy, she said it would seem that the responsibility for the subsidy now lay with Patel “who is a senior member of Cosatu”.
Cosatu has blocked the subsidy plan as it believes employers should not benefit from state funding.
Elsie Coleman, economic development portfolio committee chair, said it had to be determined whether interventions didn’t “drive wages down” and deepened the contradictions of the “two-tier labour system”.