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Economy, Labor

NACTU, new federation, unionization, national minimum wage, COSATU

South Africa has an economically active population of 17 million (2000 estimate), of whom 62 percent are male and 38 percent female. While the labor force is growing rapidly, few of these people can expect to find jobs. In the late 1960s the economy generated 740 jobs for every 1,000 new entrants, but by the early 1990s this figure had declined to less than 80 jobs. The current level of unemployment is measured at 33 percent of the labor force; it continues to rise because the population growth outstrips the capacity of the economy to create new jobs. Unemployment is much higher among the black population than other groups, and lowest among whites and Asians. Blacks account for much of the informal sector. This sector includes many unregulated small businesses as well as individuals providing a variety of services, such as car washing, street vending, and gardening. Due to the inadequate education and training opportunities available to blacks, the South African labor force has a high proportion of lower-skilled workers.

According to averages for 1990 through 1992, about 77 percent of formal employment in South Africa is in the private sector: 21 percent in manufacturing; 14 percent in trade; 13 percent in agriculture; 10 percent in mining; and the rest in finance, construction, transportation, and electricity. The remaining portion of the labor force works in the public sector, including public business enterprises. More than 20 percent of the formal workforce belongs to trade unions. This development has occurred largely since 1979, when legislation barring black employees from access to the labor system was amended. The initial rise in union membership occurred mainly in the black trade unions. Membership began to level off in 1992, but has recently risen again with the enactment of legislation affecting unionization in agriculture and the public sector. In both sectors new unions have been launched.

The main trade unions are affiliated with specific trade union federations or groupings. The largest is the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), launched in 1985, which has 15 affiliates and 1.2 million members, most of whom are black. COSATU is formally allied to the governing African National Congress. The National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU) is the second largest group, with 23 affiliates and 335,000 members. NACTU denies any political affiliation, but believes that workers’ interests are being ignored. The Federation of South African Labour Unions (FEDSAL) has 16 affiliates and 250,000 members, drawn mainly from staff associations and in-house unions. The Federation of Independent Trade Unions was launched in 1991 along nonpolitical lines. Membership in the traditionally all-white South African Confederation of Labour is declining, estimated in 1995 at only 50,000. A new federation, the United South African Trade Unions, was launched in 1995 to give a home to millions of workers in unaffiliated unions. Major problems for the union movement are the increasing numbers of unemployed people, who represent a much larger constituency than the union movement, and the growing informal sector. Major concerns among the industrial unions are training and education, human resource development, the removal of all discriminatory practices and the implementation of affirmative action, basic adult education, centralized collective bargaining, the debate over a national minimum wage, and the right to strike.

Article key phrases:

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