Employment and Labour Minister, Thulas Nxesi, says finding a new social compact is a work in progress, as the country grapples with the burden of socio-economic challenges and the rapid changes taking place in the workplace post COVID-19.
“We do need to engage with some speed on the difficult issues such as labour law reform, the Employment Services Amendment Bill and migration policy.
“This is still a work in progress. It has not been easy. But we can take comfort from the fact that parties are engaging and have committed to finding each other,” Nxesi said.
The Minister was delivering the opening address at the 27th National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) Annual National Summit held on Friday.
The summit was attended by representatives of government, organised business, community and labour.
Nxesi said the persistent high unemployment rate remains South Africa’s number one priority. He appealed to all social partners to continue to engage, to find areas of collaboration, to build on these, and to seek to commit their constituencies.
“While we are working on this societal social compact, we must keep in mind, that at a concrete level, there are many actually existing other social compacts in South Africa that we need to recognise and support.
“Nedlac must be at the forefront of growing the practice of social compacting as a way of working. We are witnessing this already starting to take place. Over time, we see the role of Nedlac evolving as being the apex of social compacting – supporting and collaborating with other sectors, provinces or local social compacts,” he said.
Community Constituency Overall Convener, Thulani Tshefuta, said social compacting among constituencies is not about “pleasing each other, but dealing with socio-economic issues facing the country”.
Organised Labour Overall Convenor, Bheki Ntshalintshali, cautioned that the country must take urgent action to mitigate unemployment.
Future of work
Reflecting on the ever evolving workplace and jobs of the future, Nxesi said there must be a focus on sustainability, just transitions from the old to the new, technological changes and the reorganisation of work.
He reiterated his support of the International Labour Organization’s Global Commission on the Future of Work report, which calls for “a human-centred agenda for the future of work”, by placing people and the work they do at the centre of economic and social policy, and business practice.
The report calls for a human-centred agenda that is forward-looking and focuses on developing the human capabilities needed to thrive in carbon-neutral, digital age economies.
The ILO report further calls on stakeholders to take responsibility for building a just and equitable future of work.
“I think we would have to say that recent events, particularly the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, have speeded up these trends and point to the need for research that is focused on solutions.
“Most obviously, we now have the widespread ‘work from home’ phenomenon. We still await findings on the long-term effects of this, although I know it has led to major reprioritisation in government and private sector budgets,” Nxesi said.
He said after the country had emerged from the worst of the pandemic and sought to rebuild, Nedlac also brought social partners together with government to develop the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Programme.
The ERRP has since developed around a series of work streams, especially on energy, transport and logistics, and small medium and micro enterprises.
Nxesi said Nedlac needs to be proactive leading on the major challenges, and it should be agile and contemporary in taking up topical issues such as the cost of living and energy.
He cautioned that Nedlac should not allow itself to turn itself into a bargaining forum when there are existing bargaining forums.
Organised Business Convenor and Business Unity South Africa (Busa) Chief Executive, Cas Coovadia, said there is a critical need to relook Nedlac.
Coovadia said Nedlac needs to revisit its mandate and ask itself if it is still ‘fit for purpose’. He said the institution has historically played a constructive role in dealing with socio-economic challenges, including COVID-19.
“The question we need to ask is whether we are representative and is our mandate enough. It is, however, encouraging that these are issues we are discussing at governing structures,” Coovadia said.
According to the Employment and Labour Department, the Nedlac Annual Summit provides a platform to reflect and discuss policy responses.
“Nedlac is the vehicle by which government, labour, business and community organisations seek to cooperate — through problem-solving and negotiation — on economic, labour and development issues, and related challenges facing the country,” the department said.