Melanie Veness: PCB CEO
One of the themes that came through very strongly at the recent World Chambers Congress was that Organised Business needs to stop following Government and start driving their own agenda and that we need to start actively defending the rights of entrepreneurs, especially those of small business.
You might well make the point that Government in South Africa has shown their commitment to developing the small business sector by establishing the Ministry of Small Business Development, and then question why there is a need for business advocacy?
Well certainly, there are many initiatives that we can partner with Government on, but I have to ask whether it is realistic to expect that some of the very real issues faced by small business are likely be addressed by the Ministry?
Take labour rigidity as a prime example. There are plumbers and electricians, hairdressers and bakeries that would dearly like to trade on weekends, but having to pay employees time and a half and double time makes this impossible. I can understand not being able to make people work these hours at normal time, but if there are people willing to do so, then why do we deny people this right? Both to work and to trade?
I’m not suggesting that we should allow any form of abuse. I am a great believer in fair remuneration and I fully support Alan Paton’s position, when he said: “It is not permissible to add to one’s possessions if these things can only be done at the cost of other men. Such development has only one true name, and that is exploitation”.
But to deny people bread on their tables, because of rigid policy, to be that inflexible, is to my mind unacceptable, and what’s more, it stifles growth. Without economic growth, how do we hope to address poverty and unemployment?
I have to say that this is not just a South African challenge. The focus, worldwide, has for some years been predominantly on worker’s rights, but there is definitely a shift in focus now, brought on, largely, by the global economic crisis. Countries that have successfully traded their way out of the doldrums, like Ireland, have acknowledged that the employer/employee rights balance has got out of kilter and they’ve taken measures to correct this.
Too much focus on the rights of employees means that the majority of people would rather be employed, than be employers, and economic growth is consequently suppressed. And it must be said, that despite contributing a significant part of a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and being large employers, the needs of small business are often overlooked.
The National Development Plan, which has been adopted as our economic roadmap envisages that, by 2030, 90% of new employment will be generated by small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs), and this makes sense if our aim is to transform our economy so that it is more representative. Unfortunately, this projection is counting on a growth rate of 5.4%, which is unattainable if we don’t make some rather drastic interventions.
With the right enabling environment, small business can realise its huge potential for transforming South Africa’s economy, but it’s going to take some tough conversations and some brave decisions, and that won’t come without strong advocacy.