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Unemployment jumps to 22%, average wages drop to P4,800

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The unemployment rate jumped to 22.2% as at December 2019, from 20.7% in September, while average cash earnings in the labour force dropped to P4,818 from P4,989 over the same period, a new Statistics Botswana report says.

The Labour Force survey for the fourth quarter of 2019 released recently is only the second quarterly labour report Statistics Botswana has produced, following on from the third quarter edition released in January.

The data indicates a troubling jobs scenario prior to the onset of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which is expected to have significantly worsened all the numbers. According to the latest survey, the number of unemployed people in the country rose by nearly 16,800 between September and December last year, while the number of the formally employed fell by about 2,600 people.

The number of unemployed people aged between 15 and 35 years rose by about 20,000 between September and December last year, to 274,786, translating to a youth unemployment rate of 28.8% up from 26.7%.

Trend analysis within the latest data also shows that most employed people are aged between 35 and 39 years of age, followed by those aged 25 to 29 and those aged 30 to 35 years-old.

The number of employed people aged below 30 years was 196,394 as at December 2019, while those aged 30 and above numbered 545,984. Just over 49,000 people were aged 60 years and older, with nearly 5,500 aged above 75 years.

The data agency’s numbers also show that women dominate both the employed and unemployed figures, while the majority of unemployed people were those with secondary school education only.

Graduates accounted for 9.8 percent of the unemployed while those with just primary education accounted for 15% of the unemployed.

The latest survey also had disconcerting revelations about earnings in the local economy, showing that between September and December last year, average cash earnings dropped from P4,989 to P4,818. Men enjoyed higher average earnings estimated at P6, 442 compared to P4,590 for females, the survey shows.

“In almost all the industries, males dominated females in terms of having higher average earnings, except in few industries like mining and quarrying, construction, accommodation and food services, scientific and technical activities,” Statistics Botswana researchers noted. The survey also found that the average earnings for citizens were estimated at P5,380 compared to P8,673 for non-citizens. Professionals, technicians and managers were amongst the highest earners, while the top paying jobs were found in mining, ICT and real estate. Statistics Botswana researchers cautioned that the latest results should be taken with caution as they were seasonal and thus changeable in nature from one period to the next. “It is important to note that results of quarterly surveys are almost always subject to seasonal variations,” the researchers said.

“This survey is no exception and thus the results that will be obtained over the four quarters of any year will have

a seasonal effect.

“Assessment of the results for long-term trends would be better done through analysis of year-on-year quarterly changes. “Thus comparison of the quarterly survey results with those of previous Labour Force Surveys, which provided annualised results should be done with some caution.”

Meanwhile, the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) says government should respond to the surge of unemployment in the country through a combination of strategic measures, short, medium and long term.

BFTU secretary general, Thusang Butale said one of the strategies to curb unemployment is re-prioritising the 2020-2021 development expenditure in favour of labour-intensive projects.

Butale noted that the move could greatly help the government curb unemployment amongst youth as well as protecting current jobs.

“For example, in order to reignite the economy, create and save jobs the government should embark on projects such as construction of roads and housing infrastructures. Extension of public schools to reduce the student-teacher ratio, and expansion of public healthcare facilities-research and testing laboratories can also help alleviate youth unemployment,” said Butale.

It is anticipated that COVID-19 will harm Botswana’s economy. In addition it is anticipated that the virus will trigger unprecedented unemployment most notably amongst youth.

Butale also emphasised that the government should set up an Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). “The UIF will provide a buffer mechanism that protects workers’ income against unforeseen future external shocks,” Butale highlighted.

He further said that the fund should be designed in a manner that will obligate government, business and labour.  Butale further said that the government should put a strong emphasis on research and development to curb rising youth unemployment.

“COVID-19 has demonstrated the benefits of investing in research and development in Botswana as academic and non-academic organisations were able to produce health products for use.

Ventilators, masks and sanitisers were produced by local research and development institutions,” Butale said.

“In fact, some of these organisations are currently investigating the possibility of developing drugs for COVID-19 treatment. In this regard, more investment research and development investment by both government and the private sectors could benefit not only the health sector but other industries to diversify the economy.”

Butale pointed out that research and development could be used as medium and long-term strategies to create employment among the youth. 

“We also call on Business Botswana and the labour movement to agree on a memorandum of understanding that would guide on ways to protect jobs in the private sector,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected the private sector. There are fears that the private sector might respond to the economic impacts of COVID-19 by shedding some jobs, a development that would ultimately leave even more youths roaming the streets.


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