Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel has called on researchers and academics to help government improve South Africa’s labour market statistics, which he believes remain distorted by the flawed information gathering processes of apartheid and possibly also by the increased deployment of labour broking.
Speaking at the inaugural 'Development Conference on the New Growth Path' in Boksburg on Monday, Patel said it was well known that the labour-market information relating to South Africa’s ‘African’ workforce, prior to the democratic era, had been highly “distorted” – a fact that made an analysis of historical trends difficult.
Since 1994, the statistical authorities had improved their coverage of the African population, using new instruments. But these continued to throw up anomalies.
He noted, for instance, that results from the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) – a household survey, covering both formal and informal employment areas – did not gel with the results of the Quarterly Employment Survey (QES), a survey of businesses, excluding the informal and agricultural sectors.
While not “strictly comparable”, government is perplexed by a 400 000 manufacturing-job differential from one survey to the other. In the first quarter of 2011, the QES reported some 1,1-million formal sector manufacturing jobs, while the QLFS calculated that there were 1,5-million formal sector manufacturing jobs.
“There are other large and inexplicable gaps in sectors ranging from mining and construction, to transport and the financial sector,” Patel said.
He argued that it was possible that labour broking had influenced the statistics, with what would previously having been classified as manufacturing jobs being “reclassified” as financial services jobs, even though the underlying activity had not changed.
“We need to use your knowledge base, your expertise and your research work to shed more light for us as government,” Patel told an audience, which included government Ministers, academics, union leaders and representatives from organised business.
“Part of our work in the next year, must be to develop the best quality labour-market information that is possible so that we can see both the trends, as well as the absolute numbers of employed and unemployed,” Patel concluded.