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The Post-Apartheid South African Labour Market:


Prepared by Laura Poswell

February 2002

В© Development Policy Research Unit, UCT
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The labour market often lies at the centre of South Africa's numerous economic growth and policy challenges. These challenges relate to issues such as skills constraints, unemployment, emigration and the impact of HIV/AIDS. The aim of this publication is to collate and crystallise the key research that has been undertaken in these diverse areas.

Ultimately it is hoped that the publication serves as a useful reference document for policy makers, unionists and other individuals and institutions interested in the detailed workings of the South African labour market. While clearly not exhaustive, this status report does attempt to cover a wide set of labour market issues.

The first section of the repor t examines the changes in the size of the labour force, employment and unemployment from 1995 to 1999. The data is disaggregated by sector and occupation and according to indicators such as race, gender and education. This is followed by a more detailed examination of the relative shifts in demand for labour that have occurred due to both structural and technological change. The second section considers the labour force in terms of its real earnings. We look at wages, the incidence of poverty and inequality, and the role of unions. Section 3 then examines two areas of industrial policy that have been of interest in terms of employment creating potential. Specifically, how have small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) and increased international trade performed in terms of labour absorption? The fourth section deals with two issues that currently characterise the South Afr ican labour force, that will continue to play a significant role in the years to come and that are crucial to consider when formulating labour market policy. The issues are the impact of labour migration and the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Finally conclusions are drawn.

1.1 A note on the data and sources used

The report is a compilation of some of the most recent research done on the South African labour market. Most statistics are based on the October Household Surveys (OHS) released by Statistics South Africa (STATS SA).

The 2 main years of interest, and the source of comparisons, are 1995 and 1999. It must be noted that statistics will differ from those officially available in instances where methodologies differ or different weighting systems have been used. In Section 1, the research on which this study is based uses 1996 Census weights for both OHS 1995 and OHS 1999 in an attempt to achieve comparability and consistency. Also, owing to problems with the measurement of the informal sector in the OHS 1995, it is not possible to analyse changes in formal and informal employment separately from 1995 to 19991.

Therefore, in order to gauge the full extent of employment shifts, estimates include both the formal and informal sectors.

  1. Bhorat, H (1999).

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