Decent Work in South Africa

Decent Work in South Africa

ITA (The Information Technology Association of SA) recently launched the Inaugural Annual Conference and Exhibition, a two day conference to bring the IT industry up to speed on the use of innovative technology and how it can transform lives, support economies, promoting increased productivity and performance to meet the objective of “Building tomorrow’s South Africa”.

The ITA conference was a huge success and focused on the government’s priority programmes, and unpacked issues that South Africa is currently facing by bringing together a number of industry leaders to chart the way forward.

The conference facilitated open and robust discussions on all economic, social, business and technology issues.

  • Decent work
  • Health care
  • Education
  • Rural Development
  • Crime and Corruption

Sylvia Thomaides, Tricruit’s representative was a panellist with the “Decent Work” forum and a moderator with the “Crime and Corruption” forum.

What is decent work?

The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines decent work as:

  •  Opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income,
  • Security in the workplace and social protection for families,
  • Better prospects for personal development and social integration,
  • Freedom for people to express their concerns,
  • Freedom for people to Organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and
  • Equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.

 The 4 pillars of the International Labour Organization (ILO): 

  • Standards and rights at work
  • Employment creation and enterprise development
  • Social protection
  • Social dialogue

The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Ideals for Decent Work:

  • Regulation of the hours of work including the establishment of a maximum working day and week.
  • Regulation of labour supply; prevention of unemployment and provision of an adequate living wage.
  • Protection of the worker against sickness, disease and injury arising out of his employment.
  • Protection of children, young persons and women.
  • Provision for old age and injury, protection of the interests of workers when employed in countries other than their own.
  • Recognition of the principle if equal remuneration for work of equal value.
  • Recognition of the principle of freedom of association.
  • Organization of vocational and technical education. 


According to the Adcorp Annual report for 2009, South Africa has close to: 

  • 48 million citizens
  • A Labour force of approximately 31 million
  • Just over 4 million people are unemployed (23.8%)
  • Nine and a half million people are employed in the formal sector (30%)
  • Two million people are employed in the informal sector (7%)
  • Close to 1.3 million people are employed in private households (4%)
  • 738, 000 are employed in the agricultural sector
  • About 5.6 million people are in educational institutions
  • Around 13.5 million people are on social welfare
  • And we have 1.8 million disabled people in South Africa

South Africa – Factors to be overcome to achieve decent work

As a developing country, South Africa faces unique challenges in the arena of decent work. 

The challenges we face are: 

  1. Unemployment
  2. Skills Development
  3. Forced Labour
  4. Child Labour
  5. Safe Working Environments
  6. Minimum Wage
  7. Social Protection
  8. Equality
  9. Social Dialogue
  10. 10.  Informal Economy 


The unemployment rate in South Africa is 23.5%

Statistics show that between 1981 and 2001, the worldwide number of people living on less than $1 a day declined from 1.45 billion to 1.1 billion, while in sub-Saharan Africa, the number increased from 164 million to 314 million. 

What are some factors contributing to unemployment? 

  • Unskilled labour: 

Unskilled labour is probably one of the biggest contributing factors to unemployment. The skills development programs currently in place are not sufficient to combat this problem. South Africa has a large unskilled work-force, and the only possibility of lowering the unemployment rate is for private companies, in conjunction with the Services SETA, is to provide internship and skills development programs that provide on the job training as well as liveable income. Skills development programs are not sufficient to combat this problem. Internship programs that provide on the job training, both in manufacturing, as well as follow up internship programs for graduates are essential and the only possibility of combating the unemployment rate.

  •  Incomplete / Inadequate education

An education that is incomplete or inadequate and does not adequately prepare students for the working environment or any skilled trade causes a shortage or disadvantage for the working environment. The poverty has filtered down through the generations, and many children do not complete their education because they have to stay home and help look after sick, elderly or younger family members. It is often not possible for children, even those who have excelled at school and shown great potential, to further develop their skills and intellectual abilities at university or technikon, because of limited financial means. Often this talent is not recognized and rewarded at a local level, as should surely be the case, but is fostered at an international level. South Africa should implement adequate skills development programs, bursaries and internships at a Secondary and Tertiary level, so that this potential does not go unrecognised or unrewarded, as is too often now the case. 

  • Poverty and HIV / AIDS:

Often children, especially girls, do not finish school because they are forced to stay home to look after sick parents and younger siblings. 

Skills Development 

Lack of skilled labour is probably one of the biggest challenges we face. While there are bursaries available, and university education has become more accessible to the disadvantaged, this in itself is not proving to be an adequate solution to the problem of unskilled labour. The Private Sector, in conjunction with the government needs to implement comprehensive internship programs and learnership on a much larger scale. Individuals need to be educated and up-skilled. We are even finding that people with University qualifications are unable to find work due to lack of experience and training. 

It is essential that on every level, both in the formal and informal sector, people are up-skilled, given on the job training, and provided with opportunities to constantly improve in terms of the level of skill they possess. We cannot leave things as they are if we wish for South Africa to achieve an acceptable standard of decent work. Policies and systems need to be put at every level of any organizations offering employment, from SME’s (where the majority of the South African work-force is employed), to the larger companies and corporations. It has been said that if you catch a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. Although it is important in certain cases for us to subsidise and compensate, it is essential for us in every instance to teach and empower through knowledge and skill that will provide opportunities for individuals not only now, but 10, 20, 30 years into the future. 

Forced Labour

Forced labour is an issue especially when it comes to vulnerable groups such migrant labourers, women and youngsters. Although skilled labour immigrating to other parts of the world is a factor in South Africa, most migration is still between African countries, where people move from one African country to another, seeking better working and living standards, or better opportunities for their families. Migrant workers often leave their families in search of better working and living conditions, with the hope of sending them money and eventually having their families join them. This, more often than not, doesn’t materialise. Migrant labourers are taken advantage of. Even if they receive a salary, and not just room and board for their labour, their working hours and conditions are often of an unacceptable standard. They are often forced to work extremely long hours and extra shifts, or to perform their duties of employment in an environment that is hazardous to their health. 

Child labour 

Child labour – More than 200 million children world-wide are involved in child labour. Nearly three quarters of working children are engaged in the worst forms of child labour, including trafficking, armed conflict, slavery, sexual exploitation and work that are hazardous to their physical, mental and emotional development.

Some children in South Africa are forced to stay home to help care for sick, elderly or younger family members, and so deprived of an essential education. 

Many children who have been orphaned or abandoned or run away from unbearable home situations are on our streets, and, without an education or any learning opportunities, will find it nearly impossible later on in life to successfully integrate with society. They will be unable to sustain themselves through employment, and will turn to crime or live a life of abject poverty. Children are often forced by their parents to stay home and help care for sick or elderly family members, or to look after younger siblings. Some children are forced to earn a living while they should still be at school, while there are many orphaned children on the streets who earn their way through drugs and prostitution. 

Safe Working Environments: 

Each South African should have the right to work in an environment that is not hazardous to their health or safety. This includes exposure to elements that could cause sickness, injury or disease, excessive working hours, Manual labour without necessary protective gear, or allowing employees to do work without being properly educated / trained. Again, especially migrant workers, women and youngsters are prone to be taken advantage of in this manner. Many South African’s work in hazardous environments, and compliance to certain standards should be monitored and enforced. 

Minimum wage 

Minimum wage should firstly be of a liveable standard. Secondly, compliance to minimum wage should be more closely monitored and strictly enforced. This is especially true for those working in the informal, agricultural and domestic sector. Overtime, paid leave, maternity leave and minimum wage are all issues in that need to be firstly addressed, and secondly enforced. The unemployed are especially vulnerable to the violation of minimum wage, because they are often forced out of desperation to “take what they can get.” Often their remuneration is barely enough to cover transportation costs and basic food for the day. Employers of day labourers, or “Piece” workers, should pay a minimum wage for a day’s work, should have valid “permits” for day labours, which hold them at least to a minimum wage, safe working conditions, and certain working hours. Minimum wage should especially be enforced when it comes to those working in the informal sector of South Africa, where those employed are often ignorant of their rights and the basic conditions of employment. 

Social Protection 

Social protection is a powerful instrument that should be implemented at every level, in order for decent work and the reduction of poverty to be achieved. Social securities where put in places so as to limit the abuse on workers such as Access to Medical Care, Pension Funds for Retirement, Security of income in case of injury, prolonged sickness or disability and Maternity benefits for women. In South Africa, it is only those that work in the formal sector that even have the option of Private Medical Care or Provident Funds, and even to some of these, basic social security is a not a reality. 

These necessary Protections are considered to be “Benefits,” not rights, as long as this is the case; our country will not achieve an acceptable standard of decent work. Many South Africans do not have access to basic Medical Facilities, much less specialists such as dentists, surgeons, optometrists, etc. Especially those working in South Africa’s informal and agricultural sectors, will never have access to these “social protections,” that should be the right of every working citizen. We should strive to implement and give workers access to Preventative Health Care services and provide Basic Education and prevention in the area of occupational health and safety. Social protection is a powerful instrument that should be utilised for the long term benefits it can provide in terms of poverty alleviation, lower crime rates, increased productivity, and a healthier work force. 

Every person should have the right to income security in the face of disease, disability, and old age. Here something must be said of the effects on our work-force of HIV/AIDS. Over 5 years ago, the average life expectancy for a person in Sub-Saharan Africa was 47 years; it has decreased since then. Without HIV / AIDS, the average person in Sub-Saharan Africa could be expected to live to 62. HIV /AIDS has had a devastating effect on our work-force and the future generation. More efforts must be made to implement education and training when it comes to basic healthcare and Preventative health care in the face of HIV.


People should have equal opportunities for growth in their careers, further educational development, training, promotions and salary increases, regardless of gender or race. Discrimination can take many forms, be it race, gender, religion or age. Every individual should have the right to have their potential recognized and their talents developed. 

Social Dialogue 

Social Dialogue is the idea that each person has the right to be heard, and to have a say in the decisions that affect their lives. Most people spend an average of at least 45 hours a week at their place of employment. Places of employment should offer opportunities in the forms of short and long term career plans, career education, training and development, study leave and bursaries. Each person should have the right to fulfil their potential in the workplace.

Informal Economy 

Informal economy comprises half to three quarters of all non agricultural employment in developing countries, such as South Africa.

Some of characteristic features of informal employment are:

  • Lack of protection in the event of non payment of wages (In cases of old age, injury, sickness, invalidity, maternity, etc)
  • Compulsory overtime or extra shifts (there is a need to limit excessive working hours, and provide adequate periods of rest and recuperation, including weekly rest and paid annual leave in order to protect the employee and ensure continued health and safety)
  • Lay-offs without Notice or Compensation
  • Unsafe working conditions
  • The absence of Social Security benefits such as Pensions, Health Insurance and Sick pay. Women, migrant labourers and vulnerable groups of workers are most prone to this form of informal employment. 

South Africa faces many challenges in the future but with the help of the ICT sector our continent can confront obstacles by interconnecting on a national level and speed up the process of globalisation. The largest barrier South Africa faces is in the skills development sector and once we encourage new business to proliferate and expand in order to pave way for industry growth we will be able to tackle the barricade around growth. South Africa would be able to assist with job creation and contribute to the social upliftment of our country. 

A comment made by a delegate attending the ITA conference had stuck to mind: “The level of unemployment in SA is rising and having a job is descent work!” As per the statistics presented by Mr Jacob Zuma at the BUSA AGM, South Africa has lost 1mil jobs to date due to the global economic crisis and Africa was not been effected as severely as many other countries in the world.  

“It’s your future. It’s your innovation. Use your voice.”




One Response to Decent Work in South Africa

  1. Interesting. Thanks for that, however that is not the limit of my appreciation. I am afflicted with color blindness (deuteranopia in my case). I mostly use Safari browser (unsure if that changes anything), and far too many websites are hard to comprehend on account of a poor range of colors used. In your case, as the selection of colors is fine, the site is amazingly tidy and easy to read.

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