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From May Day to Labor Day, GlobalPost explores the human cost of what's been called a "race to the bottom." The hyper-accelerated movement of capital, jobs and resources from the world's corporations — manufacturing, agriculture and service — to the lowest bidder. In an era of diminished expectations, broken promises and sleight of hand, these are labor stories of governments, employers, unions and workers. 

Black South African youth shut out of secure jobs

As much as fifty-seven percent of township youth are unemployed, while others turn to the "informal economy" to eke out a living.

High school graduate Godfree Dlamini, aged 20, has just started a six-month vehicle mechanic's course at iThemba Labantu. However, he is not sure what he will do next and, as is common for many young South Africans, is ill-informed about his options. ''The course is free and we get a 20 rand ($2.50) allowance each day. Doing this is more satisfying than packing grapes in a vineyard which is what I was doing before. But this course is short. A full mechanic's training costs 15,000 rand ($2,000) and I would not qualify for a bursary because my mum works. If I apply for a student loan I will be burdened with debt for years,'' he said.

Age 31 and the mother of a nine-year-old daughter, Thabisa Siyokwana has made a very focused choice to enroll in iThemba Labantu's new four-month course to train solar panel installers. After high school she worked at a supermarket delicatessen counter, then in a commercial laundry that went into liquidation in 2010. ''I came here to do the computer course,'' she said, ''but when I heard you could become a solar panel technician it seemed a new and exciting specialism. When I finish I will still need to find a job but at least I will be in a growth industry. I am the only woman on the course and that might help my prospects.

Siyokwana said there is disconnect between the education system and the job market.

''Young people are not given any advice,” she said. “When you go for jobs they want you to have completed Grade 12, even to pack boxes at KFC. But Grade 8 is enough for that job. People should be given training opportunities while they are still at school.''


In 2010, when the government feared massive layoffs in the construction industry after the building frenzy around the FIFA World Cup, President Zuma launched an infrastructure program over three years worth 840 billion rand ($111 billion). But most of these jobs are materializing through the ongoing ''expanded public works program'' — essentially a work-for-benefit scheme for the unskilled, offering jobs such as operating the stop/go sign during highway maintenance or preventing livestock from crossing the road.

''Those are not real jobs. Real jobs will only come once employment laws are relaxed. There is too much red tape in South Africa,'' said Peter Kratz, the 48-year-old director of Fundi, charity formerly known as Men On The Side Of The Road.

''Fundi means, 'someone who knows' in Swahili. We changed our name because we started to have women members, chiefly domestic workers. Essentially we exist to pair employers with casual workers and to remove people from the precarious situation of being recruited at a traffic light and not knowing whether they will be paid — or how much at the end of the day. Casual work and contracting out are a reality of the world we live in,” Kratz added. “Trade unions are hostile to us because they want to regulate all employment contracts. People pay 25 rand ($3.20) to register with us and we do not negotiate rates of pay. If someone is offering 100 rand ($12.85) for a day's work and someone living in a shack wants to work for that amount, there is nothing wrong with that.''  

South African employers, as well as the Democratic Alliance (DA), echo Kratz's view. In an April 26 speech in Cape Town at the launch of an industry-driven ''economic development partnership,'' DA leader Zille said ''Cosatu is the main roadblock on the road to job creation and redress for millions of South Africans.'' She claimed that in order to flex its muscles within the broad ideological church of the tripartite alliance, Cosatu had opted to enforce collective bargaining on start-up companies and block labor market reforms such as the youth wage subsidy.

Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven rejected the accusations. He said Cosatu belonged as a ''component part'' in government, as a result of having been born in 1985 during the struggle against apartheid. He claimed ideological differences within the ANC were more of an issue than Cosatu's influence on the ruling party.

Craven argued the DA's position came from a tradition of ''extreme exploitation'' to which employers wished to return. ''South Africa's labor laws are modeled on those of Ireland and the Netherlands and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD) says there is nothing wrong with them. Ours is the most unequal society in the world and we have to keep that in clear focus.''

He said South Africa needs to move away from the colonial African blueprint of being an exporter of raw materials. ''We have gold, diamonds and food and there must be a stronger emphasis on transformation of those products in South Africa. Our skills shortage has to be addressed through the education system and there needs to be much more focus on vocational training. Clearly there has been neglect and policy implementation has been lacking.''


This month, puppeteer Xolisile Dolo is off to Norway for a one-year attachment with a drama company. But that has been made possible by foreign charitable funding. Similarly the South African government has not played a hand in Godfree Dlamini's introduction to the workings of cars or Thabisa Siyokwana's training in installing solar panels. It is therefore unlikely, in a year's time, that they will all have permanent employment.

Most South African youngsters clearly have not read Mandela's open palms the same way as Dolo has — a push to go it alone. The young man who created a show from cardboard boxes and dustbin liners admits as much: ''Most young people I know are just sitting at home. They just do not know where to look. It takes a lot to make a job.''