Unemployed men looking for work in Meredale Johannesburg. Picture: KATHERINE MUICK
Unemployed men looking for work in Meredale Johannesburg. Picture: KATHERINE MUICK

SA saw its first increase in employment in six months as the number of employed South Africans rose by 87,000 in the fourth quarter.

The increase was driven largely by a rise in the number of those employed in the business services, trade and community services sectors, Statistics SA said on Tuesday.

This follows two quarters of contraction. SA usually sees a seasonal boost in temporary employment in the fourth quarter. However, full-time employment also saw an increase of 50,000.

Employment in the business services sector was up 53,000 while trade saw a boost of 49,000 and community services rose by 9,000.

Labour consultant Tony Healy talks to Business Day TV about Statistics SA’s latest employment numbers and what they mean for the SA economy

“[This was] partly due to seasonal employment associated with the festive season as well as election-related employment in government,” FNB economist Siphamandla Mkhwanazi said.

Unemployment in the primary sectors of the economy, however, took a knock. Construction shed 18,000 jobs while mining and quarrying fell by 7,000 and manufacturing by 3,000.

“While moderate employment gains were experienced in certain industries, overall domestic labour market conditions continue to remain sluggish,” Investec economist Lara Hodes said.

The number of employed, according to the survey — which covered all industries other than agriculture — rose to 10.06-million in the quarter to end-December.

Compared to a year ago, employment increased by 158,000 or 1.6% year-on-year with an increase of 77,000 in business services, 55,000 in trade and 32,000 in community services.

“The 1.6% increase in employment by the end of December 2018 is dismally insufficient to make a marked dent in the country’s elevated unemployment rate,” NKC economist Jacques Nel said.

In February, data from Statistics SA showed that unemployment remained uncomfortably high at 27.1%.

Year on year, gross earnings by employees increased 6.9%, and 5.8% on a quarterly basis, largely due to increases in trade, manufacturing, business services, community services, construction, transport, electricity and the mining and quarrying industries.

Average monthly earnings paid to employees in the formal nonagricultural sector remained unchanged.

“With higher taxes in 2019 predominantly due to fiscal drag, combined with an uninspiring employment outlook, which could be made worse by load-shedding, these numbers reinforce our view that households’ disposable incomes will remain under pressure in 2019,” Mkhwanazi said.

menons@businesslive.co.za