Formal-sector, non-farm jobs and earnings continued their recovery in the fourth quarter of 2020, but remained well below pre-pandemic levels, while permanent positions were under more strain, and job gains may have been seasonal.

Stats SA’s latest quarterly employment statistics (QES) for the three months to end-December showed total employment rose 76,000, or 0.8%, quarter on quarter, but remained 5.8% lower year on year.

Part-time employment increased by 9.2%, or 87,000, from the prior three-month period, while full-time employment dipped 0.1%, or by 11,000.

The increase in part-time employees, was likely due to seasonal factors, supported by the increase in demand in the run-up to and during the festive season, said Investec economist Lara Hodes in a note.

It shows the level of financial uncertainty still present, with many employers hesitant to hire full-time employees until economic recovery gains momentum, said Hodes.

The QES, released on Tuesday, measures employment in the formal, non-agriculture sector across 20,000 businesses, ranging from factories to government entities.

The QES differs from Stats SA’s quarterly labour force survey (QLFS), which is a household-based survey that includes informal workers as well as agriculture workers and domestic services.

The QLFS for the fourth quarter had already shown the formal sector added 189,000 jobs, and economists had expected an improvement in the QES as well. The QES is, however, watched for its data on earnings, with Stats SA saying on Tuesday that total gross earnings paid to employees increased by R60.3bn, or 8.9%, quarter on quarter.

This remains down R36bn, or 4.6%, year on year, with Absa economists noting the quarterly increase was due to usual year-end bonuses.

The increase in total employment in the fourth quarter was led by the trade industry, which added 54,000 employees quarter on quarter, a rise of 2.6%.

Construction saw an 18,000 decline in payrolls, and manufacturing 13,000, falls of 3.5% and 1.2% respectively. Construction remains the hardest hit on an annual basis, down 15.2% year on year, while manufacturing was down 8.8%.

Construction was also the hardest hit in terms of gross earnings, which were down 17.4% year on year in the last three months of 2021, with mining the only industry to see an increase, up 3.9%.

Update: March 31 2021 
This article has been updated throughout.


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