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After COVID-19 ravaged the SA labour market in 2020, more gloom set for 2021

Four out of every 10 South Africans who should be in work remain jobless and this year more than two million jobs were wiped out.

FILE: Unemployed builders, tilers and plumbers hold signs seeking jobs on the side of the road in Johannesburg in November 2019. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG - The country is closing off the year with an even bleaker labour market than before after the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged any chances of stalling the unemployment rate from reaching the dreaded 40% mark, which is now the reality.

Four out of every 10 South Africans who should be in work remain jobless - while this year alone saw over two million jobs wiped out.

ALSO READ: SA unemployment rate increases to 30.8% in Q3 of 2020 - QLFS

While this is a crisis on its own, even those in employment did not catch a break in 2020.

The value of wages declined and many had to reassess their priorities due to pay cuts.

“It’s like you live month to month and hand to mouth. You are just in a cycle.”

Genevieve Mampuru - a senior employee in a retail company - said she was in so much debt she did not see a way out.

Her salary was cut during the hard lockdown and even though she now earns her regular pay, this is not enough to lift her out of the multitudes of debts she had to take up to survive the four months of gloom between April and July this year.

She knows she’s in a better position than many because she had to watch on as her colleagues packed up their belongings to sit at home after losing their jobs - but even this is simply a cold comfort.

“It’s still going to take me another year to recover financially. It’s very bad.”

Quarter after quarter, Stats SA revealed harrowing details of just how the unemployment rate in the country was worsening.

The second quarter alone recorded two point two million job losses - and over six hundred in the third quarter until September.

Labour consultant Tony Healy told Eyewitness News that although the job losses were expected, the pandemic exacerbated the dire state of affairs.

“What we have seen is a massive impact on job losses, so probably between the initial lockdown and the end of the year, about two million jobs were lost, a quarter of which were maybe recovered.”

READ: Stats SA: All industries saw job losses y/y in Q3

What about 2021?

Healy said more doom and gloom awaited the South African labour market.

“The impact of COVID-19 on the workplace will certainly continue into 2021, particularly in certain sectors which were especially hard hit such as hospitality and travel in general.”

Workers who are breadwinners like Mampuru will have to contend with job insecurity and even more pay cuts in the new year should the second wave of the pandemic force employers to once again halt operations and business.

Healy, however, said he believed that the government employment initiatives, including the drive by the Presidency, may just be what saved the day - but only to some degree.

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