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Freedom Day: A look at how the workplace has changed since 1994

Nelson Mandela. Picture: Finbarr O'Reilly

Nelson Mandela. Picture: Finbarr O'Reilly

Published Apr 27, 2022


When former President and apartheid struggle stalwart Nelson Mandela took office in 1994, the country was optimistic of a democratic, inclusive, and discrimination-free society.

Under apartheid, many skilled jobs and high positions were reserved mostly for White South Africans, whilst qualified Black people were legally excluded from such senior-level jobs.

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Here is what has changed in the workplace in nearly 30 years:

The government amended labour law to provide protection to domestic workers for the first time in 1994.

Domestic workers include cleaners, gardeners, drivers, people who look after children; the elderly, sick, frail, or disabled in a private household.

The recognition of Workers’ Day

This public holiday has been observed since the first democratic elections.

The government defines Workers’ Day as: “A celebration of workers' rights and as a reminder of the critical role that trade unions, the Communist Party and other labour organisations played in the fight against Apartheid.”

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The Labour Relations Act

On November 11, 1996, the Labour Relations Act came into effect, it sought to recognise and regulate workers’ rights, to join trade unions, and to strike.

The Employment Equity Act of 1998

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This legislation came into effect on August 9, 1999. it prohibited discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of race, gender, sex, pregnancy, and marital status, among other factors.

However, under this Act, affirmative action was allowed.

The National Economic, Development and Labour Council Act

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Nedlac was launched in February 1995. It consists of representatives from government, organised labour, organised business and community organisations.

They aim to cooperate on economic, labour and development issues, and related challenges facing the country.

Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) programme

This programme was created to provide a legislative framework for the transformation of South Africa's economy.

It aimed to advance economic transformation and enhance the economic participation of black people in the South African economy.

Here are its objectives:

– To empower more Black people to own and manage enterprises, and businesses. Companies are regarded as Black-owned if 51 percent of the enterprise is owned by Black people.

– To achieve a significant change in the racial composition of ownership and management structures of existing, and new enterprises/companies.

– To promote economic empowerment that will result in access to prosperous finances for Black people.

There is still much work to be done:

Gender pay gap

According to Labour Market Dynamics of South Africa (Lmdsa) data from 2018, earnings distributed across race and gender showed that females across all racial groups still earn less than their male counterparts.

The data revealed that Black females overall earn 14 percent less than males amongst the four prominent racial groups in South Africa, with Black females earning the least followed by Indians, then Coloureds and Whites.

In the second quarter of 2021, Stats SA revealed that the unemployment rate amongst Black African women was 41 percent compared to 8,2 percent amongst White women, with 22,4 percent amongst Indian/Asian women, and 29,9 percent amongst Coloured women.

Salary Disparities amongst races

According to data from StatsSA that tracked wages between racial groups between 2011 and 2015, on average, White people earned more than three times more than Black people.