What Notre Dame Tells Us About Global Wealth

What Notre Dame Tells Us About Global Wealth

by Alex Kinmont

A Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a guaranteed amount of money given to every person regardless of whether they have a job or not. As a form of social security, this could help alleviate poverty and improve quality of life.

The idea of unconditional cash payments is a recent one, brought about as a response to the rise of technology and the fear that machines will take our jobs. Many highly successful entrepreneurs, such as Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerburg, have discussed the idea of a UBI as a potentially necessary answer to the growing problem of poverty and the risks of machines replacing low-skilled jobs.

There is no set definition for a UBI. How much money, to who, from who and how often are undefined. As a new idea not formally implemented, these are all still things which can be debated.

Getting money without working, of course, is controversial.

At first, a UBI sounds impossible. Who would bother working if they got given free money each month? And how could a government afford it? In the context of South Africa in particular, we can hardly afford to provide running water and service delivery, let alone cash payouts.

So, here comes the first hurdle. Where would the money come from?

When Notre Dame burnt down on the 15th April this year, nearly R14 billion was donated by the world’s elite within days of the disaster, enough to feed over 2 million South Africans for an entire year.

The fire at Notre Dame did more than just burn an historical monument. It served as striking evidence that there is more than enough money out there to drastically, if not fully, close the wealth gap and feed millions. Wealth is simply held by too few.

So what if the world’s 1% were made to pay the UBI bill?


There is something to be said about the idea of a maximum income allowance, after which a person has to donate their excess to welfare. Imagine if the world cared as much about people who are starving as they did about a building?

70 year old Bernard Arnault, whose family owns LVMH (a.k.a. Louis Vuitton), gave $226 million to Notre Dame. That’s over R3 billion from one family donated in a day.

Should people really be allowed to have more money than they can possibly spend?

So what is to be said then, of the argument that no one is going to want to work if their bills are not dependent on it?

Those against a UBI say it will let people be lazy and be enormously expensive. They argue it would crash our economy. Without reason to work, will anyone work? This is a valid point especially when one considers less attractive jobs, such as those which involve strenuous physical labour.

At the same time, a UBI could provide the platform needed for millions of people to think further and follow their entrepreneurial dreams. Will this opportunity for innovation and future work outweigh the cost of those who decide to work? Who knows what could come of that freedom?

Those for UBI say it will allow people to focus more on their well-being and fight their way out of poverty, as well as having a safety net to allow for taking chances in innovation and business. Mark Zuckerburg said himself that he was able to risk focusing all his attention and investments on Facebook because of the financial stability he had from his father.


Will a UBI let people stop working and crash the economy? Or will it cultivate innovation?

Perhaps instead of calling it a UBI we should call it improved social welfare. The specifics around a UBI need to be carefully determined and will differ by region and country. This will influence whether a UBI collapses the workforce or inspires it. Free money to everyone, including the wealthy, is likely unrealistic. But what about better distribution of wealth to those under the poverty line, who have been unable to find a job?

The result would be the same sized workforce but a better standard of living for the unemployed.

The burning of Notre Dame proves that a UBI is possible if we just learn to share. So is it reasonable to demand that the ultra-wealthy pay the bill?

Decent Work in the BPO sector

Decent Work in the BPO sector

Following the Polokwane conference, decent work for all has become one of the ANC’s key priorities.*1 According to the IOL and WTO, decent work opportunites involve creating freely chosen, productive jobs for women and men; jobs that are in safe, healthy, participatory work environments and that afford them decent and equitable remuneration, social protection and, whenever possible, professional development. *2 All of the above criteria that define decent jobs can be found in contact centres because they offer:

Permanent Jobs with Good Pay

Only 25% of staff are temporary workers compared to the national average of 50% of all workers. More than half of employees stay with the same employer for more than two years.

Contact Centers pay well and provide good advancement opportunities. Average entry level salary for agents with no experience are R6561 per month. Agents with experience earn on average R8339. Salaries for supervisors raise to R12 4573 and go as high as R60 000 for top managers.

In 2008, salaries increased by 20%, a rate significantly exceeding inflation, testimony to the growth of demand in the sector and a shortage in supply of skilled people in the sector. *4

Since good customer service ultimately depends on motivated employees contact centers are typically managed according to best HR practices, in compliance with the labour law.

Basic benefits are also provided for eg, medical aid, provident fund, wellness programmes. All statutory benefits are administered in accordance with the labour relations act and basic conditions of employment.


Professional Development

Contact centers present a well defined career path. Qualifications for agents, supervisor and managers are registered with SAQA as per the National Qualifications Framework.

52% of contact centers have their training materials SETA accredited. 56% of companies train their staff for more than 10 days a year.

Apart from a career in the contact center industry, graduates can also pursue careers in: customer care, sales, marketing, IT and administration. As a matter of fact, contact center employees are sought after because of their understanding of the world of work and their exceptional communication, customer service skills and computer skills. *5


Safe and Equitable Employment

The workforce is largely representative of the population, 85% of agents and 75% of supervisors are historically disadvantaged individuals, equally distributed across both genders.

Contact center work is a white-collar profession. It is therefore safe. Each workstation is equipped with a computer. 74% of contact centers have more than 5m2 meter of space per consultants. 68% have canteens. 43% have acoustic control.

We can speak about the standards which have been developed by the contact center industry and are SABS governed. This also contributes to safety and equitable environment.

Because contact center work is not physically demanding, it is well suited for the physically disabled. 78% of contact centres have access for the disabled and 72% have special toilets. *6


Jobs That Help Reduce Poverty

The industry has created over 100’000 jobs in the last five years and is expected to generate at least that many jobs over the same period in future especially since the BPO sector is one of the key pillars of governments industrial strategy.

Ideally suited for school levers, 48% of contact centers do not require previous experience and 68% require only Matric as entry level qualification

Contact Centers can also make a contribution to rural development. Given the industry’s continuous demand for new people, contact center operators prefer to set up new sites in places where workers are readily available as is the case in rural areas. Leveraging that trend, the DTI has therefore created incentives for companies to move into designated underdeveloped areas, in order to spread the opportunity and shift the focus away from more active regions.


Multiplier Effects

Research by the Business Trust shows that for every new direct job in the BPO sector, three other indirect jobs are created. If one takes into account that the average family has four members, for every job created in the BPO industry 12 people are benefited.


The BPO sector has enjoyed robust growth over the past five years. As customers expect ever more from businesses, contact centers have hired on average 15% more people every year, growing the industry from 70 000 to 170 000 employees *7.

Traditionally, contact centers have employed inexperienced people, particularly large companies which have their own in-house training programmes. Learnerships are therefore common in that sector. Almost half of all contact centers have had learners in their businesses.*8 As companies are forced to do more with less, they are now even more open to alternative means of recruitment and training. A recent request for expression of interest into learnerships by the industry association was oversubscribed by a factor of ten. In short, learners are in demand by the industry.


Despite the current economic downturn, the sector is expected to prosper especially since the South African government has identified the Business Process Outsourcing and Off-shoring (BPO&O) sector as one of the top three priority sectors to stimulate growth within its Accelerated Shared Growth Initiative (ASGI-SA).


“Recent events would only reinforce the need to continue with offshoring. Anything that delivers cost savings will be encouraged.“ The Everest Research Institute expects the growth rate of the offshore BPO market to be tempered in the short-term, i.e., between 0-10% over the next 18 months to pick-up once again in the region of 20-30% by 2011-12, to eventually grow at 50% per annum, which is expected to lead to 100,000 new jobs *9


Given the positive prospects for creating new employment in the sector and the willingness of the sector to employ learners, the proposed project will be sustainable in the long term.


1 ANC Today, Volume 8, No. 2 •18—24 January 2008:http://www.anc.org.za/ancdocs/anctoday/2008/at02.htm#art1

2 International Labour Organisation: http://www.ilo.org/public/english/region/afpro/cairo/

3 BPO & Call Centre Report 2007/08, p146

4 Kelly Contact Centre Salary Survey 2008

5 South African Qualifications Authority: http://regqs.saqa.org.za/viewQualification.php?id=67466

6 BPO & Call Centre Report 2007/08

7 BPO & Call Centre Report 2007/08, Multimedia Group, 2008

8 BPO & Call Centre Report 2007/08, Multimedia Group, 2008 p84

9 Ready to Compete, The Everest Group and Letsema Consulting, Department of Trade and Industry