Jobs That Provide Food and Services for the Poor Are 'Real Work'

Cape Times (South Africa), April 9, 2014 | Go to article overview

Jobs That Provide Food and Services for the Poor Are 'Real Work'


In its hey-day Encyclopaedia Britannica employed thousands of researchers, editors, printers, binders, dispatchers and hard-working sales people. Now it's gone, displaced by Wikipedia, which claims to have 50 times more information and is produced on an unpaid voluntary basis and provided free over the Internet.

Wikipedia creates huge value, but without a price it's virtually invisible in official economic statistics. This provokes some intriguing questions. What are we measuring when calculating GDP? What do we mean by work?

It's the latter question I was pondering once more on a visit to public employment programmes on the Cape Flats. The "real jobs" debate flared up earlier this year when the ANC election manifesto promised six million public employment "work opportunities" over the next five years.

The initial DA response was dismissive: these are "not real jobs" it said. The DA's march on the ANC's Johannesburg headquarters was originally centred on counter-posing "bogus" "work opportunities" with supposed "real jobs". However, by the time the march actually took place, the position had morphed. Someone realised a sniffy attitude towards public employment programmes wasn't a smart electoral position in a country with chronic, crisis levels of unemployment. The DA now says it's "an avid implementer" of these programmes.

Well and good, but one cannot help feeling there's a tension here between ideology and electoral pragmatism. In the same statement the DA goes on to say job creation is "mainly the business of the private sector"; that public employment programmes are "not a permanent solution"; that

"participants need to enter the expanded public works programme without illusions"; that "the jobs are short and there is no guarantee of getting another opportunity afterwards..."

First, it's not true the jobs have to be short. For instance, many of the participants in the Manenberg community work programme - part of the broader expanded public works programme - have been on the programme since its beginnings in 2010. Some were doing much the same work voluntarily before, under the aegis of the Proudly Manenberg initiative. But secondly, and not just in South Africa, how many formal private sector jobs are long-term or guaranteed in this era of casualisation, labour brokering, global financial volatility and mass lay-offs?

Yes, the stipend paid to participants in public employment programmes is relatively low (the prescribed daily minimum is R71). But if this is the reason the DA regards these jobs as not real, then why did it oppose raising farmworkers' daily minimum wage from R65 last year? Farm work is typically non-permanent (it's mainly seasonal), and definitely not guaranteed. …

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