Employment Bills are top of the list as the ANC eagerly pushes through legislation ahead of the 2014 elections.
It seems that, ahead of the 2014 elections, after which a new Parliament will take its seats, the governing ANC is eager to push through as much legislation as it can. The president has, to everyone's surprise, sent the highly controversial Protection of State Information Bill back to its drafters to clear up some constitutional issues, but that may well be a delaying tactic on a piece of law that has caused huge unhappiness in civil society and beyond – and would probably draw even more stringent critique if it was signed into law prematurely. Apart from that Bill, though, pretty much all the other legislation before Parliament seems to have been stamped "Urgent!".
Employment or the lack of it being the hottest issue for South Africa's political economy at the moment, it's understandable that several of those Bills have to do with jobs. Still, it's an intimidating list: the Employment Equity Amendment Bill, the Employment Services Bill, the Labour Relations Amendment Bill and the Employment Tax Incentive Bill. And that's on top of changes to the ways mineral rights are to be dispensed and other matters of a complexity beyond the untrained brain. It's difficult to see yet how all this will shake down, and whether such laws will in fact increase employment in South Africa, though it is as well to take note of business's objection (knee-jerk though it may be) that if yet more restrictions, conditions and complications are added to what businesses see as an already onerous labour-law regime, they are unlikely to increase the number of jobs around.
The Employment Services Bill, on which we report in our Business section this week, is one of the more troubled of the Bills facing Parliament. This is because it is a revised version of a set of proposals to pull more young people into employment, which we desperately need to do, and it is based on government incentives to be given to private businesses – the "neoliberal" way of doing things. It is also because this Bill is a new take on the youth wage subsidy proposed by the government years ago, but stridently rejected by trade union federation Cosatu because, it argued, the subsidy would disadvantage older workers. Whether that is true or not we don't know because the youth wage subsidy was never tried, in any form. The official opposition, ironically perhaps, fought on the side of the subsidy, and got rocks thrown at it by Cosatu supporters for its trouble. Now, as we report, the Democratic Alliance is saying the Bill doesn't go far enough to reach its stated goals. And, sadly, it does look as though it will probably be too little, too late.
Nonetheless, South Africa badly needs to be able to push ahead on such policy initiatives, to get programmes going on the ground. If they fail, we can try something else. But let us at least be doing something rather than sitting around arguing.