CCMA director Cameron Morajane. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
CCMA director Cameron Morajane. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

The tech revolution is largely to blame for massive retrenchments in the embattled SA economy, with the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) warning that the jobs bloodbath is only just beginning.

CCMA director Cameron Morajane, tabling the 2018/2019 annual report in Johannesburg on Monday, said they were “kept busy by large-scale retrenchments” in the construction, mining and metals sectors, which contributed to the 38,588 retrenchment notices referred to the commission during the year under review.

Through the CCMA’s discretionary jobs-saving function, Morajane said that of the 38,588 potential retrenchments, they managed to save 15,787 jobs — which equated to a success rate of about 41%.

“One job saved is important but to take it to 15,000 on a discretionary function is a remarkable achievement,” said Morajane, who stated his intention to turn the CCMA into a world-class commission.

This was as the economy was projected to grow 0.6% in 2019. The unemployment rate is 29%, and the expanded unemployment rate, which includes discouraged job-seekers, is at 38.5%.

Morajane said the causes of the retrenchments related to automation and artificial intelligence, and singled out the banking sector as the hardest hit industry by far.

“I can confirm that currently if we look at cases we dealt with, the biggest contributor is the fourth industrial revolution. The banking sector is the hardest hit because they use more automation which affects the bank branch approach,” he said.

“We have to make peace with the fact that the fourth industrial revolution is here ... It is inevitable. We have to accept that reality.”

In September the Labour Court interdicted trade union federation Cosatu and its affiliate the SA Society of Bank Officials (Sasbo) from embarking on a total shutdown of the banking sector. The interdict prevented the more than 50,000 Sasbo members from protesting against job losses and retrenchments brought by the tech revolution.

“Do we foresee more retrenchments happening? Absolutely,” Morajane said.

“Even the president said prepare yourselves for a jobs bloodbath. Business has said they will continue with retrenchments. We do foresee more referrals.” 

He stressed however that they only dealt with issues that had been referred to them. There could be retrenchments that were happening “under the radar”, which contributed to the unemployment crisis.

He said the more people learned about the national minimum wage legislation, “we are expecting that we will have more referrals on large-scale retrenchments”.

On October 1 the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) announced it had the appetite to down tools in the platinum sector, after the world’s largest platinum miner Sibanye-Stillwater said it would axe 5,270 workers at its Lonmin operations.

Amcu, which recently emerged from a bruising five-month strike at Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold division, has referred its dispute with the platinum mining sector bosses to the CCMA.

A total of 193,000 cases were referred to the CCMA in the year under review, with the highest referring sector being business and professional services which accounted for 27%, followed by security with 12% and the retail sector at 11%.

The CCMA’s projection was that its case load would increase by about 20% during 2019/2020, as its scope had been expanded to deal with the national minimum wage and the basic conditions of employment act.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za