Book Chapter
Trade Unions in South Africa

From the book: Oxford Handbook of Africa and Economics, Vol. 2.

As an upper middle-income country within Africa, South Africa often attracts specific interest in terms of its economic growth and development dynamics. Often under-appreciated, is the extent to which the system of apartheid has generated so many outlier features of this economy. Extraordinary economic and social inequalities amongst the citizens of the country and a deep inherited social assistance scheme – South Africa remains a country of unusual and unexpected statistics. Nowhere is this feature more evident than in the labor market of this economy.

In this chapter, we attempt to consider the role played by institutions in South African economy with a focus on the trade union movement and the labor-regulating architecture of the country. The chapter first provides a historical overview of the South African trade union movement before and after the apartheid, followed by a brief discussion of the labor market legislation and institutions formed since 1994.

There is a detailed evaluation of the impact of trade unions and wage legislation on labor market outcomes in South Africa. The chapter culminates in a discussion on the political economy effects shaping South Africa’s employment relations in light of the tripartite structure of the ruling governmental party.