New report details South Africa’s jobs losses before lockdown

Stats SA has published the latest Quarterly Employment Survey for the first quarter of 2020, providing data on the state of South Africa’s job market in the months leading up to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The data shows that the country’s formal non-agricultural sector shed 3,000 jobs in the first quarter of 2020, bringing the total number of people employed in the sector to 10.2 million – a decline of 0.2%.

The report includes employment up to the quarter ending March 2020 and is thus not indicative of the impact on employment due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Stats SA said.

Job losses since the outbreak of Covid-19 and resulting lockdown are still being calculated on a daily basis.

Current estimations are that 1.5 million South Africans will lose their job as a result of the lockdown and choices by government to keep certain industries closed.

However, the Q1 data contextualises the jobs crisis in the country, with the numbers showing that problems have persisted long before the pandemic hit.

In the first quarter of the year, job losses were reported in the trade industry with 17,000 posts lost over the period. Losses were mainly due to decreases in employment in the retail and wholesale trade sub industries by 14,000 and 3,000 employees respectively.

Employment in the construction industry decreased by 14,000 jobs.

Job losses were also seen in the manufacturing industry with an annual decrease of 28,000 employees (-2.3%) in March 2020 compared with March 2019, and a quarterly decrease of 2,000 employees (-0.2%) in March 2020 compared with the prior year.

StatsSA pointed to decreases in employment in the wood and products of wood and cork (except furniture), articles of straw and planting materials, paper and paper products, publishing, printing and reproduction of recorded media and transport equipment sub industries.

The community, social and personal services industry reported an annual growth of 54,000 employees (2.0%) in March 2020, however, and an increase of 17,000 employees (0.6%) between the quarters ending December 2019 and March 2020.

These gains, StatsSA said, were mainly due to increases in employment in provincial departments; local government; national departments; health and social work; and universities and technikons.

The business services industry grew by 8,000, mining by 3,000 and the transport industry with 2,000 jobs. Full-time jobs increased by 18,000 quarter-on-quarter, whilst 37,000 jobs were lost compared to same period last year.

During the March 2020 quarter, part-time jobs declined by 21,000, whilst 40,000 jobs were added year-on-year.

Average salary before lockdown

While job numbers were relatively flat, earnings paid out to workers was down significantly, decreasing by R46.7 billion when compared to the previous quarter.

The total amount of gross earnings estimated for the quarter was R730.3 billion. This is down from R777 billion in the previous quarter. There was a 4.3% year-on-year increase in earnings in the current quarter compared with March 2019, however, amounting to R30 billion.

The average monthly earnings were measured at R22,387 in the formal non-agricultural sector of the economy in February 2020. This is a -0.2% decrease when compared to November 2019, and an annual increase of 5.4%.

Read: This is what South Africa’s small businesses are cutting to stay afloat – including jobs

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