Labour productivity grew substantially in the first twenty years of democracy, but is this unequivocally good? Much of the increase has been driven by changes at the firm level. Smaller firms’ average labour productivity increased more than that of larger firms. This seems to reflect changes in the composition of firms and jobs – smaller firms and low-productivity jobs appear to be vanishing. This is worrying because these are the type of jobs we need to reduce unemployment.
Have real wages fallen behind or increased out of line with productivity? A macroeconomic perspective
Macroeconomic data on wages and productivity suggest that there has not been any constant tendency for real wages either to fall behind or increase out of line with increases in productivity. Upward shifts have affected real wages sporadically, but have subsequently been offset by downward shifts, leaving a one-to-one long-run relationship between real wages and productivity. This is contrary to the conventional wisdom in both the labour union and business worlds.
Small and medium-sized firms hold the potential to absorb most of the unemployed in South Africa. In this the NDP may be correct. However, the NDP may not be correct in arguing that exports can be the main catalyst of the growth the country needs to address poverty and employment. Several factors hinder such a strategy. A more domestically-focused policy aimed at production (and services) for local consumption might bear more fruit.