Improved productivity evidence for better policy making in South Africa

In this interview, Mothunye Mothiba, Chief Executive Officer of Productivity South Africa, discusses how partnering with the ILO Productivity Ecosystems for Decent Work team will improve productivity analytics to support policy work involving key government, business and workers’ organizations in 2024.

Article | 13 October 2023
Mr Luca Fedi (right), ILO Employment Specialist interviewed Mr Mothunye Mothiba (left), CEO of Productivity SA on October 2023

Luca: Thank you very much Mr Mothiba for agreeing to this interview. As you know we had a very constructive time last week in South Africa with your experts at Productivity SA, together with experts from Statistics SA and from the Reserve Bank, on ways to enhance productivity measurement and analysis in South Africa. We’d like to hear from you on why this work matters and how you see Productivity SA’s role.

Mothunye Mothiba: Productivity South Africa has the duty in South Africa to measure and evaluate productivity and overall competitiveness of the economy. There hasn’t been sufficient appreciation in South Africa’s policies of the importance of productivity as a driver of long-term competitiveness and sustainable growth. Productivity is at the heart of economic growth and addressing decent work deficits. We have been producing productivity statistics annually for many years, but we can take that work further to provide more detailed, disaggregated and elaborate computations of key productivity analytics, including at sectoral and regional levels.

“Productivity is at the heart of promoting economic growth and addressing decent work deficits.”

Luca: How do you see Productivity SA, with ILO’s help, bringing forward this evidence to then inform policy?

Mothunye Mothiba: Partnering with the ILO’s Productivity Ecosystems for Decent Work project I believe we are well positioned to address productivity issues as a country. We can mobilise strategic partners for the computation of data, that is Statistics SA and the South African Reserve Bank. With more detailed and refined productivity analytics we can then engage on policy involving key government, business and workers organisations. Now we can elevate the issues of productivity and competitiveness to monitor the impact of South Africa’s economic policies – and consider needed reforms.

“Now we can elevate the issues of productivity and competitiveness to monitor the impact of South Africa’s economic policies, and consider needed reforms”

We can enhance our collaboration with the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, to evaluate the impact on productivity of the National Master Plans for industrial development of key sectors, and consider improvements. More broadly, we need to track the impact of South Africa’s Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan  and National Development Plan  (NDP). The National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) is where business, workers and government sit to discuss o issues related to the economy. With its Chambers on Labour and on Industrial Development, NEDLAC is a key platform to bring forward this discussion and see as a country how we ‘shift the needle’. We have seven years to go on the NDP, we need more evidence on how the economy rises in productivity and generates quality jobs, including within small and medium sized enterprises. We need to track the impact we are making, monitor and evaluate the progress of these national plans, and act accordingly.

The Parliament is also enquiring with the Ministry of Employment and Labour [about] our work. The Minister just recently received a question from Parliament on the progress of a productivity strategy for South Africa. South Africa does not have a productivity strategy as such. My response was we are working with the ILO to look at productivity measurement and at the link between productivity and decent work. The Productivity Ecosystems for Decent Work Project can help us boost employment and productivity in some key sectors, like leather and automotives, while at the same time addressing the wider macro level. We must be able to track progress by businesses on productivity as well as the benefits that are accruing in terms of improved incomes for workers or in formalising employment. South Africa as [with] other emerging economies still has a majority of enterprises operating in the informal sector.

Luca: So our work on the data will allow Productivity SA to produce an expanded National Productivity Report for South Africa in the first quarter of next year. This will be a good basis for the policy work on the national economic plans and productivity strategy that we can take forward next year.

Mothunye Mothiba : Definitely. The national productivity policy is at the top of my agenda. Let's have more discussions around that so that we come up with something substantive for the country. This is important for SA’s domestic economic policy [and] also links with the BRICS initiative and the resources that are expected to be made available from there. The BRICS countries met last in South Africa in August, under the South African Presidency. The Productivity Ecosystems for Decent Work approach was recognised as part of their key conclusions. This follow-up meeting of BRICS Ministers of Employment and Labour that just took place in South Africa [in September] reiterated and further elaborated on this. This is an important opportunity to be met.

Luca: I thank you for your time Mr Mothiba, and look forward to working closely with your organisation in the coming months

Mothunye Mothiba: You're welcome.

Productivity SA is established in terms of section 31 (1) of the Employment services Act, No. 4 of 2014 as a juristic person with a mandate to promote employment growth and productivity thereby contributing to South Africa's socio-economic development and competitiveness. Productivity SA is managed in accordance with the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). Their mission is to improve productivity by diagnosing, advising, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating solutions aimed at improving South Africa’s competitiveness.

The Productivity Ecosystems for Decent Work Programme addresses constraints to productivity growth and decent work at the policy, sector and enterprise level. It supports the structural transformation of economies and labour markets towards more and better jobs, higher productivity, and equitable distribution of productivity gains via social dialogue. Supported by governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations in the ILO Governing Body It is being piloted in South Africa, Ghana, and Viet Nam from 2022 to 2025 with US$ 9.2 Million from the government of Switzerland through its international development arm, SECO, and US$ 7.2 Million from the Norwegian government through the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD).