New South Africa jobs data paints a grim picture

Statistics South Africa has published its Quarterly Employment Statistics for December 2020, showing how the lockdown has continued to impact jobs in the country.

The QES data is drawn from private non-agricultural businesses such as factories, firms, offices, and stores, as well as from national, provincial and local government entities.

The data shows that total employment increased marginally by 76,000 (0.8%) quarter-on-quarter, from 9,564,000 in September 2020 to 9,640,000 in December 2020.

This was largely due to increases in the trade, community services, and business services industries, the stats body said.

However, total employment in the country decreased by 594,000 (-5.8%) year-on-year between December 2019 and December 2020.

The sectors that were the hardest hit include:

  • 161,000 jobs lost in Business services;
  • 130,000 jobs lost in the trade sector;
  • 103,000 jobs lost in the manufacturing sector.

Part-time employment increased by 87,000 (9.2%) quarter-on-quarter, from 943,000 in September 2020 to 1,030,000 in December 2020.

However, on an annual basis, part-time employment decreased by 29,000 (-2.7%) year-on-year between December 2019 and December 2020.

The QES employment data doesn’t reflect unemployment levels but rather shows how many people receive salaries from formal businesses. It does not track informal sector jobs in the agriculture, hunting or domestic sectors.

There are two official sources of employment statistics, the QES – which is establishment based – and the QLFS – which is household-based. Each survey has its strengths and limitations.

For example, the QES cannot provide information on the following:

  • Description of the employed e.g. their demographic profile, education level, hours of work etc.; and
  • Unemployment and descriptors of the unemployed.

The Quarterly labour force survey (QLFS) is a survey of households which collects information from approximately 30,000 dwelling units and collects data on the labour market activities of individuals; whereas Quarterly employment statistics (QES) is an enterprise based survey that collects information from non-agricultural businesses and organisations from approximately 20,000 units.

Stats SA stressed that in the QES, persons who are paid by their employer for all or any part of the pay period are counted as employed, even if they were not actually at their jobs.

Persons who are temporarily or permanently absent from their jobs and who are not being paid (i.e. do not receive salary/wages) are not counted as employed.

The latest QLFS survey for Q4 shows that compared to the same period in 2019, there were 1.4 million more unemployed people in the country.


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