There has been an increase in the number of people eligible to work, but the economy is adding jobs at a slower pace, worsened by the soaring unemployment rate and the coronavirus pandemic which is expected to add to the country’s troubling labour data.
Statistics Botswana’s multi-topic survey labour force report for this year’s first quarter (Q1 2020) shows that the country has a labour force of 978,396 people, up 2.5 percent from 2019. The labour force is made up of people aged above 15 years who are out of school and are active to undertake any kind of labour. From the 978,396 manpower, only 76.8 percent are employed, leaving 226,598 without jobs in the first three months of 2020, marking a 23.2 percent unemployment rate, higher than the 22.2 percent unemployment rate in 2019.
The lack of jobs in Botswana has become a major issue, and without clear data, there is growing concern that the number of unemployed people might be understated. For starters, the 23.2 percent unemployment rate does not include discouraged job seekers, who after a prolonged period of joblessness have decided to stop searching for the hard to come jobs. Statistics Botswana estimates the number of discouraged job seekers at 59,212, and when added to those actively seeking jobs, there are 285,813 people without jobs, resulting in the extended unemployment rate of 27.5 percent.
The lack of jobs in the sluggish economy has hit hard the young people most. Nearly 146,899 people under the age of 35 are jobless – representing more than half of the total unemployed people in the country. The data also shows that unemployment is highest in urban and urban villages, and it is steadily rising in rural areas as well. From the 226,598 jobless people, about 22.2 percent or more than 50,000 are graduates from tertiary institutions, while secondary school leavers account for 60.2 percent of unemployment.
The search for jobs is also getting more frustrating each passing year, the data suggests. The figures show that 35.1 percent (79,551 persons) reported that they had been seeking work for two years and more. These were followed by persons who reported to have been looking for work for one year to two years at 21.3 percent ( 48,214), whilst those who reported that they spent one month to 3 months stood at 40,907 (18.1 percent).
On Wednesday, the issue of unemployment broached in parliament, with legislators balking at the figures presented by the minister of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development Mpho Balopi, who said they have 133,000 people registered as job seekers since 2016 in their labour database. The main contention was that the database only offers partial data, and at most, reflects a small portion of job seekers who are willing to work menial jobs.
The minister reiterated that the country was working on implementing a comprehensive national employment system that will give a more accurate view of labour statistics. Last year, the government said it was reviewing the national employment policy, a document prepared in collaboration with the World Bank on how to solve the country’s worrying joblessness rate. According to the latest Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan (ERTP), advisors from the Finance ministry have hinted at introducing an unemployment benefit scheme.
“This could be on an insurance basis, funded by deductions from pay and employer contributions or from taxation or both,” the advisors wrote in the document.
There are fears that the economy will bleed jobs following Covid-19 restrictions, which included multiple lockdowns, which have curtailed economic activities. So far, the loss of jobs has been halted by President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s state of emergency declared in April for six months, which among other things, prohibits retrenchments. However, economic experts say the country should brace itself for potential layoffs after the decree expires in October.