South Africa’s largest union is calling a nationwide strike on Wednesday to protest at the government’s failure to stem rampant youth unemployment.
The 340,000-member National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), which has emerged as the government’s biggest critic, has called for marches in major cities across the country, including the economic hub of Johannesburg.
“We are tired of political parties and business organisations that often refer to youth unemployment as a ticking time-bomb but do little to address the problem,” Irvin Jim, NUMSA general secretary, said on Monday.
“The majority of the people who are out of jobs are the children of our members. Some have never worked in their entire lives.”
NUMSA, which largely represents workers in the automotive and metal sector, is at odds with the African National Congress (ANC) government over how to tackle youth joblessness.
It opposes the government’s youth wage subsidy legislation, which will incentivise companies that employ young people, preferring a job-seekers grant or basic income grant.
Last year the union, which forms the biggest part of the labour federation COSATU, the government alliance partner, broke ties with the ANC, saying the former liberation movement’s policies had become too capitalist.
“The present neo-liberal policies have failed to reverse the injustices caused by the previous apartheid government, the working class continue to suffer,” Jim charged Monday.
South Africa, which is the continent’s wealthiest country but dogged by stubborn levels of inequality, is rocked every year by hundreds of violent protests over substandard delivery of housing, electricity and water.
Unemployment officially stands at 24 per cent, but the true figure is believed to be higher and the bulk of the jobless are young people.