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In need of support

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Most people do their banking on their computers at home. Bank staff has been reduced dramatically

Picture: Sakhile Ndlazi

A Stellenbosch University professor was recently quoted as saying that half the black workers and about 30% of white workers in this country are in jobs that are likely to be automated.

The implications are frightening. We already have a major unemployment problem, which really hurts us all. We complain about the high crime rate, but what else can jobless people do?

They need money to survive. Jobless people feel unwanted and are likely to lash out violently at a society that doesn’t offer them hope.

Meanwhile, potential employers are reluctant to offer jobs to people who are likely to demand higher wages and fail to come to work on time because of the hopeless transport system.

If there’s a machine that can do the job, they’ll go for it. Machines don’t go on strike or arrive late for work or demand time off for family funerals.

On my occasional visits to North America and Britain I’ve seen just how easy it is to replace human workers. There are hardly any petrol attendants at filling stations any more. Motorists do their own pumping and checking. Many supermarkets now have self-service checkouts, where customers scan their own purchases and pay by card.

Each of them represents one unemployed worker. Increasing numbers of people now do their shopping “on line,” and that requires no cashiers or security people. You order by computer, pay by card and have your goods delivered by courier.

Most people do their banking on their computers at home. Bank staff has been reduced dramatically.

I recently visited one of the biggest olive oil producers in this country and was surprised to see hardly any labourers in the factory.

The olives are picked by machine, sorted, cleaned, pressed and bottled by machine.

Olive oil production is one of the oldest jobs in the world and used to employ thousands of unskilled workers. Many of them now roam the city looking for work while gleaming stainless steel machinery quietly does the work they used to do.

What is the answer to this growing problem?

I suspect there isn’t just one answer. Governments at all levels need to start labour-intensive projects – build and maintain roads, dams, schools and cheap houses. Private homeowners should think about employing housekeepers and gardeners.

And if the labour laws make this difficult, more people should consider using home cleaning and gardening services, which do provide jobs.

We should all recognise that car guards, buskers and Big Issue sellers need our support.

They’re doing their best. The more money we put into the informal economy the less likely we are to be mugged. Most people would rather work than rob.

Last Laugh

A South African farmer went on a package tour of Egypt and was amazed at the size of the pyramids.

“Jislaaik,” he said to the tour guide, “who made these things?”

“They were built by the Pharaohs, sir,” said the guide.

“Ja, maybe they were,” said the farmer, “but I bet the dark ous did all the hard work.”