Figures released by Statistics South Africa indicate that the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 29.1% in the fourth quarter of 2019 compared to the third of last year.

The results further indicate that the number of employed persons increased by 43 000 to 16.4 million, while the number of unemployed persons decreased by 8 000 to 6.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2019.

The biggest job losses were seen in the trade, manufacturing and utilities sector. The report shows that the formal sector recorded the largest employment increase of 117 000, while employment in the informal sector declined by 77 000.

Statistician-General Risenga Maluleke explains, “The gains were in the public service — the refuse removal and sewerage services which we have seen an increase of 113 000 jobs quarter on quarter. In finance and transport and construction, there have been increased. But the losses were in trade – 169 000 jobs. Other areas were manufacturing – 39 000 – and also in utilities, collections and distribution of electricity as well in water, we have lost 14 000 jobs quarter on quarter.”

Maluleke says young people remain vulnerable to labour markets with the youth unemployment rate sitting firmly at 58%. He says the situation is worse among young people, who did not complete matric.

“Those with less than matric are actually even higher, they are sitting at about 60%, 61.8% to be exact. But not only that, we have about 10.3 million young people of ages 15 to 24 years old, of those 3.3 million of them are not in employment, schooling or training, so we call those the mid and those account for about 32%.”

Independent labour analyst, Andrew Levy says the latest unemployment figures are an indication of temporary employment during the December period. Levy adds that statistics for the first quarter of this year will paint a much more grim picture.

“Normally the first quarter of the year sees quite a fall. So when we get the next figures, it’s not going to reflect all of the retrenchments that we’ve seen this year … All we need a renewal of the confidence and seeing that the government is tackling the problem, and right now that not what investors are seeing, that is not what the world is seeing.”