Union leader says India's MNREGA model could be useful in SA

Zwelinzima Vavi, the head of the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) believes that the model used in India could also work in South Africa.

Speaking at a University of Johannesburg seminar around constitutional employment guarantees in South Africa, Vavi called the huge unemployment figures in the country, especially among youth "a ticking time-bomb".

Vavi said the South African constitution affirmed that "everyone has the right to fair labour practices" but unlike its Indian counterpart, did not specifically guarantee the right to work.

The Indian constitution commits the state "to make effective provision for securing the right to work".

The Indian scheme, which became law in 2005, provides a legal guarantee for 100 days of employment every financial year to adult members of any rural household willing to do public work-related unskilled manual work at a statutory minimum wage.

The (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee ) Act was introduced to assist mainly semi or un-skilled people living in rural India, many of them below the poverty line.

"(MNREGA) has reduced hunger, raised self-esteem, advanced women, strengthened civil society, and - despite problems with fraud which we in SA are unfortunately also familiar with - introduced new mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability," he said.

"Interestingly, the programme is also said to have increased the popularity of (the Indian) government, which my comrades in the ANC should bear in mind," Vavi said, alluding to the fact that the ANC had lost some ground in recent nationwide municipal elections due to dissatisfaction about service delivery.

Vavi said India and Brazil, which had a similar plan, had "led the way in using the state to do what the market will never do".

"We have an army of 6-million people who want to work but can't find jobs. Most of them are black, women and young without education and skills. They face a lifetime of poverty."

Vavi's comments came a day before Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan unveiled details of the government's new Jobs Fund. Gordhan said the R9 billion fund would be managed by the Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA).

"In South Africa, more so than any other country in the world, we require a new boldness and a new energy to be infused into the job creation process," Gordhan said.

Gordhan said one of the fund's focus areas would be unemployed youths. An estimated 42 per cent of South Africans between the ages of 18 and 29 are unemployed.

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