Rallying cry for jobs

President Jacob Zuma was expected to adopt a characteristically conciliatory approach in his annual State of the Nation address on Thursday evening to ensure that everyone is behind him as he embarks on the government’s most intensive job-creation drive since he moved into the Union Buildings.

He was likely to announce a R10-billion state job-creation fund and a youth wage subsidy. The latter, first mooted by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan last year, has been coolly received by Cosatu as potentially giving rise to a two-tier labour market.

By late afternoon on Thursday Zuma was at his Cape Town residence, Genadendal, receiving well-wishers after he had finished rehearsing his speech, which was to be delivered live on all free-to-air television stations at 7pm.

In an unusual move the media was not given a briefing before the event or any details in the speech. Officials said they wanted the event to be “Zuma’s moment”, unaffected by premature speculation. According to those who helped draft the speech, Zuma was expected to make job creation the key focus of his address.

However, the possibility of increased tensions with trade unions over the ways in which he plans to plug the job gap is said to be worrying him and he sent a high-level team on a charm offensive to win detractors over.

Earlier this week five of Zuma’s ministers met trade unions and business people to discuss how the government plans to create more jobs and how they will be driven. According to insiders who attended the meeting, Gordhan, Angie Motshekga, the minister of basic education, Blade Nzimande, the minister of higher education and training, Rob Davies, the minister of trade and industry minister, and Ebrahim Patel, the minister of economic development, joined forces to try to reach consensus over the new growth path, which Patel has championed.

Departing from ‘decent’ job creation
Insiders say Zuma is adamant that the jobs thrust of the government must not exacerbate tensions between the government and other stakeholders. Cosatu has made it clear that it is unhappy that the government appears to be departing from the goal of “decent” job creation. “There is a realisation that being in battle mode doesn’t take the issue forward,” an insider said.

A trade unionist who attended the meeting said that the ministers “wanted consensus to build a national effort around job creation”. He said Zuma was worried that the new growth path could go the same route as the growth, employment and redistribution (Gear) plan, which opened up a deep rift between former president Thabo Mbeki and Cosatu.

“We started by tackling the low-hanging fruit, the things we know we can find agreement on,” the insider said. Zuma was expected to raise the issue of a youth wage subsidy in his speech, as well as a R10-billion fund to finance it. But insiders said this would be another divisive issue which could set the president and the unions on a collision course.

The subsidy is designed to encourage employers to hire more young employees. But labour experts say that an unintended consequence might be that the subsidy will encourage young people from poor households to leave school early to earn a wage.

Departments have been tasked with making job creation their top priority, while the public service employment numbers are expected to grow by 10% to absorb more labour.

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