Covid-19 threatens jobs recovery

By Maria Kandjungu

RENOWNED labour researcher Herbert Jauch says the employment prospects for young people, especially recent graduates do not look rosy. The country has in recent months experienced its highest rates of unemployment and retrenchment in recorded history.

“The labour market does not look promising at the moment, the country was just coming out recession and has now been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Chances of people getting jobs are very low right now, especially for the young people and those who recently graduated,” Jauch said.

He added that the unemployment rate should be expected to skyrocket and would likely be at its highest since independence, especially among the youth.

The Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation’s quarterly jobs report released in April showed that the country registered 2 244 new jobseekers in the first three months of the year, adding to the already high number of registered jobseekers recorded in the past years.

According to the report, the ministry only managed to place 55 jobseekers during that quarter. Graduate survey by the national council of higher education (NCHE) shows that Namibia has over 19 078, students who freshly graduated from local universities alone in 2019, adding to an already high number of unemployed youth. In 2017, Namibia had about 67 000 unemployed graduates hoping to get a job in the field of those about 8 677 completed their studies that year.

Labour Force Survey report of 2017 by the Namibian Statistics Agency also showed that about 364 411 people were unemployed countrywide, painting an even worrisome picture of the country employment status. After three consecutive years in recession, the situation has not eased up.

“It is going to be a crisis for young people. We live in an economic system that did not provide for young people and those freshly out of university. Young people will need to look at opportunities around Covid-19 and utilise them some more,” Jauch opined.

He said it may take a while for the economy and labour market to improve and young people need to brace themselves for tougher times when it comes to employment prospects. He argues that Namibians need to become more self-reliant.

“But we have seen that there are opportunities around Covid-19 that young people can take advantage of in the meantime. The last few months since the pandemic broke out have shown that all of a sudden the University of Namibia can make sanitisers, we are seeing young people making masks. I think there are more opportunities around this virus that people can look at while the country is recovering.”

Namibia on top of its high employment rate recorded its highest number of retrenchments in recent months, as according to the ministry’s data, 4 805 were retrenched from January 2019 to date.

The Labour Ministry reported that for the first time in history a total of 1 946 employees were retrenched in a single quarter (three months). The retrenchments affected regions such as Kunene, Zambezi and Kavango East, which rarely if ever reported retrenchment before.

“The country will need to do a complete turnaround, we cannot go back to where we were before the virus hit. We virtually export everything, so agriculture and high skilled sectors need to be a priority. We cannot just debate about these things and we are not talking about policies anymore, but we need to act and start looking at creating self-sufficient sectors,” Jauch added.

He believes there is a need to boost and reorient government green schemes that are currently being poorly managed. “We now need to focus not only on farming but on activities around processing. For example, we do not look at just making flour but biscuits too; we do not just have fruits, but we should be making fruit juices too.

“The issue with those schemes now is that they are being poorly managed, but we have seen that they can be a success. Look at the Mariental scheme, we saw that it can work. We just need to employ skilled and competent people to run and manage them.”