Employment in South Africa grew at the annualized rate of 6.8 percent for the month of March outstripping growth in the previous two months, the latest installment of the Adcorp Employment Index says. A total of 108 826 jobs were created in March – a marked acceleration from the 24 000 jobs created in February and 80 000 jobs created in January, leading to the strongest monthly showing of job creation since the 2009 recession, Adcorp’s report says. 

The strongest growth was in temporary employment which grew by 11.3% and permanent jobs which grew by 9.2%. Growth in the informal sector was a more modest 0.6% while the only category to show a decline was agency work – down by 3098 jobs. Growth was strong across all employment categories with transport and logistics (15.2%), electricity and utilities (13.3%) and mining (12%) enjoying the most growth.

While examining the trends in employment figures this month’s Index also takes a closer look at the growing crisis in the South African trade union movement which has suffered major losses in both membership and funding since 2006. “Since 2006 trade unions have lost 129 424 members which translates to a loss of R95 773 760 per annum in membership dues,” says Adcorp’s labour market analyst, Loane Sharp. Unions have suffered three major setbacks in recent years. The first has been the reduction in their numbers since 2006 which has seen their total membership fall from around 3.5 million to around 3.3 million members. Secondly union members’ participation in strikes has been low with only 1.4% of members turning out for strikes since 2006. Strike attendance has also been variable, ranging from 0% to 8.8% thanks to various factors such as the goals, duration and time of year of the various strikes.

“Where trade unions have been successful is in raising wages,” says Sharp. “Between 1995 and 2011, after-inflation, remuneration in the non-agricultural sector has increased from R9378 per month to R12 564 per month. In the 15 years since the Labour Relations Act was introduced after-inflation wages have increased by 28.8%.”

Sharp adds that while unions have enjoyed success in terms of wage negotiations, where they have failed is in the area of labour relations.

“In 2010/2011 the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) received 156 000 referrals, 62% of which were settled in favour of employees against employers. The Labour Court made 2042 decisions last year with only 50% in favour of employees. Both statistics reveal that workplace conflict has been largely unchanged over the last 10 years.

“If these figures are a guide then on average 1.2% of the total South African workforce formally raises disputes in a given year and 0.7% have sufficiently convincing arguments which lead to settlements in their favour.” Sharp says.

A final conclusion which can be drawn from the report says Sharp is that the rising occurrence of industrial action is not symptomatic of genuine employer/employee conflict but rather as a response to gradually declining union membership and lower worker participation in strikes.

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