Publikation Ungleichheit / Soziale Kämpfe - Globalisierung Nokuthula Booi: Entäußert oder außen vor - der Kampf um Arbeit und Lohnarbeit

Beitrag zur Konferenz "Gerechtigkeit oder Barbarei" Interkontinentales Forum vom 5. bis 6. Oktober 2000 in Berlin





Oktober 2000


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Gerechtigkeit oder Barbarei.

Interkontinentales Forum vom 5. bis 6. Oktober 2000Paper by: Nokuthula Booi

Organisation: Labour Research Service

Country: South Africa

City: Cape Town in Salt River


Comrade Chairperson, Brothers and Sisters

Leadership of all organisations represented in this conference

Honoured guests & comrade delegates

On behalf of the Labour Research Service of South Africa I bring you warmest greeting in this important assemble of brothers and sisters representing South Africa, Southern Africa, Africa Continent and globally.

We are in our 7th year of the emancipation of our country from apartheid rule. Ours is to begin to defend gains made and continue to struggle for the reconstruction and development of our country. To do this I will begin by

reflecting on THE STRUGGLE FOR WORK AND SALARIED WORK with an emphasis on the following:

  • Background of workers struggle in South Africa, with an emphasis on the struggle of women workers
  • Gender
  • Role of the Trade union movement
  • State and NEDLAC
  • Tripartite Alliance
  • Globalisation


1. Background

South Africa is unlike European countries whose workforce is mostly skilled. This is a result of apartheid and other discriminatory laws and practices, In South Africa the large majority of workers are semi-skilled or unskilled. That led to certain communities i.e. “blacks" being disadvantaged in the workplace vis-à-vis “whites". This has resulted blacks being disproportionately represented amongst unskilled workers as well as unemployed and the poor people. There are inequalities amongst the workers (race and discrimination) and differences between average black and white incomes, and the gap between rich (white) and poor (black) communities has widened. Poverty and unemployment are concentrated among Africans, women and the young, and in the rural areas. In terms of sexual hierarchy men and women are accorded different roles. The nature of patriarchal relations varies from society to society, depending on race, class, religion, marital status and age.

2. Gender

Under apartheid, racial, gender and class discrimination were highly visible. The racial and gender form of colonial domination masks the exploitation of the black working class. Race and gender is about using power and control in the interest of capital. Apartheid capitalism also benefited from women's oppression in that large numbers of African women worked as domestic workers and cleaners under extremely exploitative conditions. Further more, women's unpaid labour in the rural areas enabled bosses to pay extremely low wages to migrant workers. Capitalism benefited from the oppression of women under patriarchy, by virtue of the fact that employers paid low wages to women because of patriarchal ideology, which saw men as breadwinner. It also benefited through the separation of unpaid labour in the home.

Apartheid laws set out limited and impoverished roles for African women. They defined the role of African women in society and the economy. At the same time, the colonial system in South Africa intensified gender oppression. The combination of colonial and customary oppression denied women basic social : and economic rights in the family and the community. Many women were prevented from living in the cities, owning land, family planning, inheriting, borrowing money and participating in the political and social struggles. The system led to widespread abuse of women. both inside and outside the family. Therefore African women were confronted by triple oppression on the basis of their race, gender and class.

3. Role of Trade unions

The inequalities of South African society are graphically apparent at workplace level. The quality of life of the population of South Africa is inextricably linked to the availability of jobs, and a fair dispensation of wages and working conditions. Trade unions are an integral part of the struggle for better dispensation of social and economic justice. The Trade Union movement in South Africa played an extremely important role in bringing about the political changes that occurred during the past decade in South Africa. Trade unions are also organisational vehicles for the development of leadership skills and 'qualities among marginalized in South African society, because of the ethos and traditions of . collective struggle, democracy, accountability and equality that is central to the movement. This also provides fertile ground for the development of women to take the lead in ensuring that they are the engineers of their own struggle for equality and justice.

4 State & NEDLAC

When the new democratic government took over in the year 1994, along with many other changes, it sought to review Labour Market, particularly labour laws. There were changes in the Labour Relations and in the Basic Conditions of Employment. In terms of labour relations, the LRA was promulgated. Its aims were to promote voluntary collective bargaining within a broad framework of regulation. The BCEA was also promulgated to legislate minimum employment conditions, or standards, for all workers. New legislation was also passed in the areas of Occupational Health and Safety. These changes were due efforts by the labour movement. Over and above this efforts were also made to promote co-operation between business, Government and labour. Relations between business, Government and labour were formalised through an Act of Parliament, passed in 1995 which led to the establishment of the National Economic, Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC). Its primary task was to overhaul Labour Market issues. As a result of engagements and discussions between the Labour, Government and Business representatives in Nedlac, other new acts emerged e.g. Skills Development Act and Employment Equity Act.

  • Skills Development Act, aims to develop the skills of South African workers - by improving the quality of life of workers, their prospects of work and labour mobility. The
  • Employment Equity Act, aims to address the imbalances in the workplace and unfair discrimination.

The ushering of a new democratic dispensation and the adoption of progressive Constitution, have brought visible changes for the majority of the formerly oppressed. The Constitution outlaws discrimination of women and calls for measures to redress past imbalances in terms of race, sex and disability and other prohibited grounds of discrimination. The adoption of the Employment Equity Act goes a long way in addressing and the Promotion of Equality and prohibition of discrimination .It contributes towards gender equity in all spheres of society. Changes in government and the establishment of the regulatory framework have brought visible relief for millions of people, especially for women in the rural areas. They also led to better provision of basic services such as water and healthcare. These changes have been brought about through co-operation between business, government and labour.

5 Tripartite Alliance

The ruling party ANC, the trade union federation COSATU and SACP entered into an informal alliance, in order to end the exploitative and oppressive apartheid system. It is an accepted fact by the overwhelming majority in South Africa that these organisations were committed to eradication of racial oppression and exploitation. Since the formation of NEDLAC the Tripartite Alliance has become increasingly involved in the transformation of political, economic and social issues as well as workplace transformation. The majority of workers have a strong union-centred approach to politics. Their political relationship with both the ANC and SACP is grounded in a firm loyalty to COSATU. Most workers believe that political parties will not best represent their interest but that unions will. This shows that workers believe COSATU is the-most appropriate institution to protect them and advance their interests especially in the context of globalisation.

6 Globalisation

South Africa is a developing country entering the global village. Its entrance to this global village has led to major shifts in labour markets e.g. major companies restructuring, with the aim of becoming cost effective.

6.1. Global changes

Restructuring has led to job loses, outsourcing, and casualisation:

Privatisation of government services like water and Transport have also led to job losses. There were also reductions in government budgets and increase spending on defence which meant less spending on social services like health and welfare.

Reduced tariffs and high interest rates contributed to slow economic growth and unemployment. For example, between 1997 and 2000, one in ten formal jobs were lost. The biggest job losses were in mining and manufacturing, especially clothing, machinery and equipment. The last few years have seen an upsurge in the number of casual workers. This is a reflection of the instability prevalent in the labour market. There is thus an emergence of huge casual labour over past years which has changed social composition of the working class. Trade union membership consists of unskilled and semi-skilled which occupy the major sectors of the economy. Therefore it is the responsibility of the trade union movement to defend the jobs in these sectors of the economy.

6.2. Migration

There are unemployed workers from informal settlement in urban areas and rural areas who cannot find jobs. Therefore they are highly susceptible to political manipulation. Most of unemployed in the rural areas are women whose opportunities for jobs are affected by poverty. In the rural areas people depend on the agricultural economy for employment. However, employment in these types of economy tends to be seasonal or contract work. This worsens poverty as employment opportunities are almost non existent. As a result many rural inhabitants take to creating their own and income, e.g. they grow food for their own consumption and crops that they can sell. Most of the people try to live from a small patch of land that either own or lease. The men go off to try their luck elsewhere, leaving the women behind with children. Therefore women are more active in the informal than the formal economy.

A large proportion of the rural workforce migrates to the cities. Even in the cities the economy is incapable of absorbing the increase in number of people looking for work. This has resulted in a growing number shack-lords who are seeking to retain a place to live closer to potential area of employment or informal self-employment.

6.3. Social Changes

Roughly half of the urban workforce works in the informal economy. In the cities, the informal economy is geared mainly to services. Most of the work takes place on the street e.g. selling of flowers, fruits, cigarette etc. Women tend to work in the invisible part of economy I indoors as home -workers or servants. Their unpaid work in small family businesses often goes uncounted. Women have a less chance of landing a formal job than men. Women are often less well educated because parents still prefer to send their sons to school rather than their daughters. In some cases girls even have to go out to work to pay for their brother's education. In addition, women are expected to take responsibility for caring tasks (children, relatives, in-laws, household). As a home –worker, a woman can apportion her time in such a way as to combine work and care. The public sector spending cuts effect health care and education in particular. These are precisely the sectors, which traditionally employ a lot of women.

Looking at the type of home-based workpeople were engaged in reveals how limited opportunities are. The home-based workers are divided into four groups i.e.

  • sellers - selling goods in spazas,
  • sewers - design or making clothes for selling
  • mechanics - repairs machines, cars or get contracts
  • miscellaneous - doing odd jobs.

Some are even small- scale employers with one or two employees. The majority of the employers in the informal sector were previously employees, that were retrenched or their formal jobs disappeared as the result of financial cutbacks in their companies. These workers don't make much profit but they work for living. They don't have business skills in order to manage their business finances well. Some times they are sub-contracted by a certain company, whereby they need to work harder for the next contract. The relationship between the employer and the employee is not open or protected by law. It is then not easy for the employee to complain if he/she not satisfied with working conditions. Therefore the job is not secure. The most popular forms of employment are casualisation and sub-contracting. These workers are excluded from some parts of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, which makes it easier and very attractive to the employers. It is clear that most of atypical workers do not have fixed regular hours and benefits. They are not entitled to taking leave and are paid very low wages. Nor is likely that their employers contribute to UIF .

There are claims that the use of casual, temporary and contract labour increases productivity. These relate to high levels of job insecurity, with workers exerting themselves beyond any regard for matters affecting health and safety, simply to ensure continued employment. In some sectors productivity gains result from combination of long hours and low wages, in many cases through piece or task rates. Productivity improvements really only translates into short-term profit improvements subsidised by South African workers, with no broader developmental issues. There is a need for legislation that will cover these vulnerable workers in all sectors. As well as the trade unions need to change its focus, by organising these sectors hence the formal employment is disappearing slowly and the informal sector is increasing rapidly.

The reactions from the organised .labour is the government to change the macro-economic policies e.g. GEAR. Macro-economic should addresses job creation, job retention and an end to poverty. In so far as unemployed, there is a need to form cooperatives with jointly create projects. Such cooperatives should be supported by the government and the business.


In conclusion, I hope that this conference will attempt to design programmes, which are implementable to meet challenges faced by the current forms and fight against globalisation. Also exchange experiences from different countries represented here.