By Lucia Mutikani
JOHANNESBURG – Workers represented by South Africa’s biggest labour federation COSATU will strike on Thursday against unemployment and poverty, the union said.
Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) spokesman Patr
ick Craven said its 1.7 million members were expected to take part in the one-day stay away which could disrupt schools, rail and harbour operations, mining and vehicle assembly plants.
“It’s part of a long running campaign against a high unemployment rate, which started in 1999. Unfortunately the unemployment rate remains unacceptably high and poverty is worsening,” Craven told Reuters on Wednesday.
Economists said the strike would not have an impact on the economy because it was only for a day, although the vast majority of COSATU members are expected to down tools.
But they warned it could harm the country’s image among international investors.
COSATU, an alliance partner of the ruling African National Congress, argues that despite Africa’s largest economy enjoying its fastest economic growth in nearly 22 years, the country’s black majority remains mired in poverty.
The economy expanded 4.9 percent last year and by 4.5 percent in 2004. The government plans to accelerate the annual rate to 6 percent by 2010 to reduce an unemployment rate officially estimated at 26.7 percent and halve poverty by 2014.
“In those sectors where new jobs are being created, a lot of them are insecure, low paid jobs,” Craven said.
He said the manufacturing sector, particularly clothing and footwear, was axeing jobs because of a flood of cheap imports from China. And the mining sector was not benefiting from strong precious metal prices because of a relatively strong currency.
The rand’s rally from a historic low of 13.85 to the dollar in 2001 has been blamed for eroding export growth and corporate profits.
ECONOMY CREATING JOBS
Economists said the strike could prove counter-productive, spooking investors, and said employment levels were rising.
“We want to create jobs and we have to tell investors that we’re giving them a stable environment. The economy is creating jobs but we keep hearing from that COSATU that it is not. That is irrational,” said Mike Schussler, economist at T-Sec.
Data released in March showed the country’s formal non-farming sectors created 158,000 new jobs in 2005.
“Last year was the best year in 15 years in terms of job creation. Most of the jobs created are of a long-term nature and the salaries, given the strong rand, are competitive by global standards. COSATU must get their research right,” said Schussler.
The jobs picture is clouded by the fact that the economy is generating vacancies of a high-skilled nature, whereas the profile of the typical unemployed was a young person with limited education and skills, economists said.
“The jobs are created at a much higher level. For employment to make a significant difference, we need sustained higher levels of growth for a longer period of time. That is not going to happen overnight,” said Magan Mistry, economist at Nedbank.
“The strike will send a negative signal to international investors and also highlights problems in the economy.” — Reuter