International Labour Organisation SA director Vic van Vuuren. Picture: SOWETAN
International Labour Organisation SA director Vic van Vuuren. Picture: SOWETAN

LABOUR market regulations in SA are not to blame for the country's high unemployment, according to International Labour Organisation (ILO) SA director Vic van Vuuren.

African Development Bank recently identified "excessively rigid" labour market regulation, especially in the "best-off" African countries, as one of the main stumbling blocks to youth employment.

Speaking in an interview last week, Mr van Vuuren identified education challenges, a skills mismatch, an inadequate focus on entrepreneurship and small business, as well as the economic slowdown, as the main contributing factors to unemployment.

Despite a decline in the second quarter, SA's jobless rate remained high at 24.9%, meaning that 4.47-million people are without jobs.

"When we look at our labour laws and we analyse them and compare them to other best-practice countries, I don't think we have a rigid labour market that is preventing youth employment or employment in general," Mr van Vuuren said.

However, a labour analyst at employment services group Adcorp, Loane Sharp, strongly opposed Mr van Vuuren's views and said there was evidence that the country's labour laws were partly responsible for unemployment.

"The World Economic Forum ranks SA in the worst four or five countries in the world in terms of our labour laws and regulations," Mr Sharp said.

The government is proposing to amend some labour laws as it tries to strike a balance between regulation and helping to create jobs.

"They're adding more regulation and what is needed is less regulation. Those indicate the most significant tightening of labour laws. They are even more restrictive than the Labour Relations Act of the mid-1990s," Mr Sharp said.

The Labour Relations Amendment Bill and the Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Bill are before the parliamentary portfolio committee on labour.

Deliberations are expected to end later this month.

The most contested proposals in the bills include the equal treatment of temporary and permanent workers after a six-month period of employment; the extension of picketing rights to unrelated third parties; and the provision that temporary workers might be able to sue for unfair dismissal due to an expectation of contract renewal or permanent employment.

Should the amendments go through, the labour minister would have more power in the determination of workers' salaries and even be able to regulate the use of sub-contracting, labour brokering and outsourcing.

In a submission to the parliamentary labour portfolio committee last month, big business, through Business Unity SA, described the amendments as being deeply problematic. It said its calculations suggested that at least 215,150 jobs would be lost as a direct result of the amendment dealing with equalising conditions of service between temporary and full-time staff.

The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry told the committee in its presentation last month that some of the proposed amendments could impose further costs on business to employ workers, and could thus increase the rigidity in the market for temporary employment services.