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THE NATIONAL EMPLOYERS' ASSOCIATION OF SOUTH AFRICA (NEASA) – Disappointed in Labour Department's Narrow Views on Labour Legislation.

The National Employers Association of South Africa (NEASA) is very disappointed with the apparent lack of understanding by the Department of Labour for the need to change current labour legislation. Speaking at a labour law conference last week, the Department's deputy director general, Les Kettledas, said the answer to the labour crisis was not in amending the law, but rather in the proper implementation thereof.

Kettledas went further to say that labour relations in South Africa were too complicated to resort to the mere changing of legislation. Among the contributing factors he pointed to were the so-called burden of a legacy of oppression and racial discrimination, as well as the extreme income and wage inequalities.

'We understand that changing labour legislation is not a simple process. We also understand the political and economic complexities of our society. A change in the current direction will require bold decisions and extremely strong leadership. However, unemployment is the greatest driver of inequality. It is surely better to receive a small wage than no wage at all,' says Gerhard Papenfus, NEASA CEO.

The difficulty that employers face when a need or reason arise to dismiss, also has a downward impact on wages. Employers must already build in the financial risk of a potential dismissal at the time of employment. The over protection of employees therefore serves as a stumbling block to eradicate inequality and is therefore counterproductive.

'Government's interventionist approach is a deterrent to business growth, entrepreneurship and investment. Although the NDP emphasizes the importance of the private sector and SMME development in tackling the challenge of unemployment, probably South Africa's greatest challenge at this stage, there is no indication that government considers any change in direction in the policies that have landed us in the current dilemma in the first place. Surely government cannot expect a different outcome if they continue on their current course. Proper private sector job creation is the only sustainable way to create work and alleviate poverty,' Papenfus said.

NEASA also disagrees with Kettledas' comment that along with improved implementation of the labour law, a better understanding of the legislation and upholding the values that underpinned it, would go a long way in addressing South Africa's labour problems.

'One can only understand and implement within a legislative framework and currently that framework is flawed and outdated.  It cannot be argued that the laws governing dismissal and collective bargaining are not rigid and that they are not preventing job creation and growth and without changing that, government will be suspected of not taking these challenges seriously. One can only hope that the Governor of the Reserve Bank's voice on this issue is heard,' says Papenfus.

Government's apparent disinterest in debating the matter is saddening. Kettledas made it clear that government was not interested in hearing views on the restrictive nature of the South African labour market. He said government was committed to a policy and legislative approach that is captured by the concept of regulated flexibility which is a balance between flexibility and regulation.

'Times and demands have changed and it will be a sad day if government thinks that they have all the answers and therefore exclude debate on this issue. Unfortunately the perception exists that the Department of Labour is only serving an ideological agenda that only caters for certain interests,' Papenfus said.

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Sya van der Walt

Media Liaison