Minister Thulas Nxesi addresses National Economic Development and Labour Council summit

Finding a social compact is work in progress – Employment and Labour Minister, Thulas Nxesi

As South Africa grapples with the burden of socio-economic challenges and the rapid changes taking place in the workplace post Covid-19 – Employment and Labour Minister, Thulas Nxesi said work in finding a new social compact is work in progress.

“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 today (09 September) during the 27th National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) Annual National Summit. The Summit was attended by representatives of government, organised business, community and labour.

The Nedlac Annual Summit provides a platform to reflect and discuss policy responses. South Africa is reeling from the effects of economic downturn and Covid-19.

National Economic Development and Labour Council 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.

Nxesi said the persistent high unemployment rate remains South Africa’s number one priority as government, and as social partners. 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 which we need to recognise and support”, he said 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.

Reflecting on the rapid changes taking place in the workplace and the jobs of the future, he said there was a need to focus on – sustainability, just transitions from the old to the new, technological changes and the reorganization of work.

He reiterated his support of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Global Commission on the Future of Work report that calls for “a human-centred agenda for the future of work”, by placing the 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 a 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 which is focused on solutions.

“Most obviously we now have the widespread ‘work from home phenomenon – and we still await findings on the long-term effects of this, although I know it has led to major reprioritization 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. He said The ERRP has since developed around a series of work streams – especially around energy, transport and logistics, and small medium and micro enterprises.

According to the Minister the Nedlac Council needs to be proactive, taking up and leading on the major challenges, “we face – a just transition, sustainability, digitisation and the changing world of work. Nedlac needs to be agile and contemporary – taking up topical issues such as the cost of living, energy, etc”.

He cautions that Nedlac should not allow itself to turn itself into a bargaining forum when there are bargaining forums.

Organised Business Convenor and Business Unity South Africa (Busa) Chief Executive, Cas Coovadia said there was a critical need to relook at Nedlac. Coovadia said Nedlac needs to revisit its mandate and ask itself if it was 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 are we representative and is our mandate enough. It is, however, encouraging that these are an issue we are discussing at governing structures”; Coovadia said.

Community Constituency Overall Convener, Thulani Tshefula said social compacting among constituencies was not about pleasing each other, but dealing with socio-economic issues facing the country.

Organised Labour Overall Convenor, Bheki Ntshalintshali cautioned that the country was bordering on the verge of sinking if more than 10 million people are unemployed.

Source: Government of South Africa

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