Solidar Suisse projects on informal labour in South Africa

By Joachim Merz and Zoltán Doka (Solidar Suisse)

The UN 2030 Agenda with its 17 “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs) reaffirmed that achieving decent work for all is still high on the global agenda. Targets such us decent work for all (8.5), eradication of forced labour and modern slavery (8.7), protection of labour rights and promotion of safe and secure working environments (8.8) have been endorsed by all UN members.

Despite this celebrated breakthrough agenda, countless people in formal and informal work struggle to translate their human rights into better and more secure lives. They still demand for their health to be protected, their basic needs to be met, and their old age to be secured by pensions. They still fight against abuse and exploitation by governments and businesses alike.

Within this framework, Solidar Suisse supports marginalised people and their organisations to have labour laws enforced, get access to legally entitled compensation in the case of illness or accidents, to have safe and secure work places, being protected from excessive overtime and claim their rights to protest against illegal and abusive practices. By doing so, Solidar Suisse helps closing that gap between shining declarations and conventions and the realities workers are facing every day.

In South Africa, Solidar Suisse works with the Casual Workers Advice Office (CWAO) to support casual labourers, contract workers and others working in the informal economy to defend their rights.

Although officially ’only’ 25 per cent, South Africa’s actual unemployment rate is closer to 40 per cent. Many of those who do have work are being exploited. Ever increasing numbers of people have become so-called ’labour broker workers’, who do the same jobs as permanent staff, but on far worse terms.

Their wages are much lower, they have no social security and they can be dismissed without notice. CWAO provides advice and support to precarious workers to encourage and support the emergence of organisations among them. The organization supports workers such as street sweepers employed by labour brokers to keep city streets and squares clean. They also support post office workers striking for permanent jobs and temporary employees of a fast-food chain sacked without notice after working there for twelve years.

Most of the casual workers seek help in a context of unfair and unlawful dismissals, wage dumping or because employers did not pay social security contributions. Each year some 4,000 workers contact CWAO and thanks to CWAO’s intervention, 80 per cent of all cases are resolved in favour of the workers.

Recently, CWAO has intensively campaigned to amend the Labour Relations Act to give more rights to labour broker and contract workers. As a result of this, the Act has been changed so that after three months of temporary or fixed-term work, they are entitled to become permanent workers.