African companies have already announced thousands of job cuts. In a country where a third of the labor force is already unemployed, this would put even more strain on demand and economic growth.
Almost 8,000 jobs are at risk as companies including Telkom SA SOC Ltd, the country’s largest fixed-line operator, and Walmart Inc’s local unit, Massmart Holdings Ltd, plan to reduce their headcount after slumps in earnings.
That is after Sibanye Gold Ltd cut positions at its Marikana operations as part of restructuring plans and Glencore PLC issued a notice of possible reductions at its Rustenburg ferrochrome smelter.
If realized, these job losses would add to an unemployment rate that is the highest in at least 11 years, and place a further damper on demand and consumption spending in an economy stuck in the longest downward cycle since World War II.
Growth in household expenditure, which makes up 60 percent of economic activity, slowed to 0.2 percent in the third quarter despite a reduction in the benchmark interest rate.
“Labor market dynamics — job growth, income growth — are the most important drivers of consumption expenditure,” Absa Bank Ltd senior economist Miyelani Maluleke said.
“I worry that if we see more of these kinds of announcements it could further depress household consumption expenditure,” Maluleke added.
An economic blueprint that South African President Cyril Ramaphosa coauthored a decade ago aims to reduce joblessness to as little as 6 percent by 2030, but the government’s actions are not helping.
In addition to a lack of urgency in implementing policies to boost growth and convince businesses to invest and expand, the state and its companies are also reducing workers.
South African Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni has made it clear the state wage bill has to be trimmed, and that means a government that employs fewer people.
Despite opposition from labor unions, the restructuring of power utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd, which has billions of dollars of debt and a bloated workforce, would lead to job cuts when it eventually happens.
The national carrier, South African Airways, is in bankruptcy protection and started canceling flights on Tuesday to save cash, a step that could usher in a reduction in staff.
South Africa’s unemployment rate has remained above 20 percent for at least two decades, largely due to insufficient economic growth.
Since 2015, population growth has outpaced that in GDP every year.
That means the economy “doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what is required in terms of jobs for new entrants in the labor market,” Maluleke said. “As a result I think you’re going to see the employment rate grow.”
South Africa’s economy has not expanded by more than 2 percent a year since 2013 and neither the central bank nor the Treasury see it reaching that level by 2022.
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