South Africa’s labour market

South Africa’s labour market transformed since 1994, with an emphasis on strategies that eliminate labour inequalities of the past and improve general working conditions for all South Africans.

Legislation and policy

The most notable pieces of legislation which aim to strengthen the labour market include:

  • the Labour Relations Act (LRA);
  • the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA);
  • the Employment Equity Act (EEA);
  • and the Skills Development Act (SDA).

Legislation is supported by codes of good practice, issued by the Department of Labour. Occupational health and workplace safety is also closely regulated.

The workforce

With an unemployment rate of around 25%, South Africa’s biggest challenge is the creation of jobs. The global recession of 2008 hit the local labour market hard, and more than a million jobs were lost by 2010. However, the market is gradually recovering and this is expected to help employment figures.

According to Statistics SA, South Africa has a workforce of more than 18-million people (this includes those either working or available to work and actively seeking work). Of these, around 13,5-million are employed:

  • Formal sector (non agricultural): 9,6-million
  • Informal sector (non agricultural): 2,2-million
  • Agriculture: 685 000
  • Private households: 1,1-million

According to StatsSA’s figures for the last quarter 2012, about 4,5-million people were looking for work, of which 3,1-million (or 68%) have been looking for work for a year or longer. Just over 61% of the job seekers did not have matric.

Trade unions

Trade unions play an important role in South Africa’s labour relations. There are three major union federations in SA, whose affiliates represent a broad spectrum of industry: The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), the Federation of Trade Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) and the National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu).

These three federations form the labour constituency at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), together with members representing the state and business interests.

Business organisations

South Africa also has a number of employers’ organisations. Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) represents the collective interests of business in South Africa in the context of the Nedlac forum.


Labour disputes are dealt with on several levels: either through bargaining councils, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), the Labour Court or by private arbitration.

The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) was established in 1996, to resolve labour disputes. CCMA arbitration awards that are contested or disputes that cannot be resolved by conciliation may be taken to the Labour Court in certain cases.

Since its inception in 1996, the CCMA has dealt with thousands of cases. The majority of disputes referred to the CCMA relate to individual dismissal and are settled at the conciliation stage.

Employment equity

The Employment Equity Act requires designated employers to compile and implement an Employment Equity Plan aimed at promoting equal opportunities and affirmative action, while eliminating unfair discrimination.

Designated employers include those who employ more than 50 people, or have an annual turnover of a certain amount.

The Act is intended to redress the employment disadvantages of black people, women and those with disabilities (“designated groups”). A designated employer is required to implement affirmative action measures for designated groups in order to achieve employment equity.

SAinfo reporter

Reviewed: 3 May 2013

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