The National Development Plan (NDP) received withering criticism from academic panellists at a labour law conference this week.
The plan was too long for anyone to really engage with, mostly ignored existing industrial strategies and, most importantly, was vague about the massive surge in low-waged jobs it seemed to advocate, said academics from UCT.
Professor Jeremy Seekings, director of the Centre for Social Science Research at UCT, accused the NDP of a “rhetoric of tough choices” accompanied by a “conspicuous absence” of any detail or discussion about what those choices are.
The plan talks of 11 million new jobs by 2030, but is “very, very thin on detail” about how these jobs are to be created.
Shane Godfrey, a researcher at UCT’s Labour and Enterprise Policy Research Group, echoed this by saying the plan’s “major and critical failing” is that it makes “passing references to trade-offs”, but gives no detail.
According to Godfrey the plan’s “scale undermines its purpose”.
The National Planning Commission had produced an unwieldy “massive document”, he said.
“It is a major task to read it.”
According to Seekings, the plan’s job targeting “implicitly” creates a right to work that runs counter to the current system of wage agreement extensions that lead to closing clothing factories.
The little direction it gives was “anathema to the labour movement”, he said.
The plan proposes that so-called decent work will only be achieved in the future and that the first priority is mass employment, especially in small firms in the private sector.
Seekings and his colleague, Professor Nicoli Nattrass, have become vocal critics of clothing union Sactwu and have produced volumes of research on the destruction of South Africa’s clothing sector by wage agreements.
The plan, however, seemed to suggest that the right to work might have to be exercised through a massive expansion of the Expanded Public Works Programme, creating an “enormous and probably unbearable” burden, said Seekings.
“I’m not saying the NDP means minimum wages should be lowered or abolished in all sectors.
“We are saying the NDP’s goal is only possible if there is flexibility around wages in some sectors.”
Wage “flexibility” was particularly necessary in tradeable sectors like clothing, “which can be outsourced to China”, argued Seekings.
According to Godfrey, the eventual planned regional integration of southern Africa into a single free trade zone will probably cost South Africa jobs.
“I think these sectors will move away from South Africa to the rest of the region,” he said.
According to him, the plan seems to accept that many sectors will disappear, while most new jobs will be in services.
“Most worrying is the view that there will mostly be small firms. Yes, they create a lot of jobs, but they also destroy a lot,” he said.
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