BWI Conversations: A talk with young union leader Lebohang Vincent

As we celebrate today International Youth Day, BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson talks with BWI International Youth Committee Chair Lebohang Vincent on the situation of young workers in South Africa.

Lebohang, who is also from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in South Africa, discusses the latest developments in the country, and the crucial role young workers need to play amidst the continuing political and economic instability in the region, which is worsened by COVID-19. 

Lebohang joins the global call for government and employers to invest massively on workers' skills trainings to provide the working people, especially the youth, more ample job opportunities and help them secure a better future.

Watch the full interview here.

Full transcript below.


Ambet: Hello to all of you watching today, International Youth Day. I am speaking to Lebohang Vincent, a young trade unionist from the National Union of Mineworkers and Construction Workers in South Africa. Lebohang is the Chair of BWI International Youth Committee and he is leading the various youth campaigns and solidarity actions around the world.


Welcome Lebohang. It's good to see you. I know it has been tough in your country right now. Last month, we saw in the news that there were riots and looting that went on for days in your country. Some are calling this the hopelessness of the youth in South Africa. Tell us about the situation of young workers in South Africa


Lebohang:  Thank you Ambet for inviting me to have this conversation with you. While these riots were actually triggered by the protests related to the jailing of the Former President Zuma, the unrest and the extensive looting clearly relates to the situation that many people find themselves in. It is not a coincident that these riots came at a time when unemployment in South Africa is at its highest as it has ever been which actually sits at 43%. Youth unemployment it's at a staggering 75%.The pandemic has hit the economy very hard with massive losses in formal employment. So, yes, there is a sense of hopelessness, especially amongst the youth, as prospects of jobs seems to be unlikely in the country. 


Ambet: This is a very bleak situation for the workers. It must be causing much hardship for them and their communities. What is the response of the government? What are the economic recovery plans that address job creation, especially for the young workers? 


Lebohang: There is an economic recovery plan developed through a social compact with government, business including labour. In this plan, the construction sector will be very critical to the post pandemic recovery. From mid 2020, my union, the NUM, has been part of the Covid-19 Construction Rapid Response Task Team which had to look at the recovery of the industry. Now there are many infrastructure projects that have been announced to drive the economic recovery by the unions but us as the unions we need to be very vigilant to make sure that the investment yield much needed job especially among the youth. 


Ambet: Yes and the NUM is not alone in this challenge, our affiliates in all countries needs to have a seat at the table to form recovery plans that ensure the job creation is prioritised, and we should be paying attention to opportunities for young workers. Today is International Youth Day, as the Chair of BWI International Youth Committee, do you have a message to give to our unions, to the young workers around the World?


Lebohang: The message that we have is that  BWI Youth is calling for affiliates to demand policies promoting vocational training and quality apprenticeship systems. We are also calling that this should equip young people to meet the demands of jobs during the recovery and to meet the labour market needs for emerging green and digitalised sectors. We are also, as BWI Youth, calling on governments to invest in quality vocational training and apprenticeship programmes in collaboration with unions and employers. We also calling for employers to enhance opportunities for on-the-job training and to fund the training of a highly skilled workforce they actually need, and we also call on Unions to ensure that decent work at the core or becomes the core of the training and apprenticeship programme.  


Ambet: Thank you Lebohang for this interesting conversation. I wish you all the best with the actions you are leading today. To young workers everywhere this is a very challenging time and you have the added challenge of trying to establish your footing in the workforce. As union members, you do not need to face these barriers and obstacles on your own. Unionised, we can raise our collective voice to demand a better future that is equitable and just.  Stand up, speak out and fight for your future.