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South African Study Shows Contract Labour ‘Growing Alarmingly’ in Mining

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1 December, 2008

A recently released study by the Human Science Research Council of South Africa’s Witwatersrand University reveals that the country’s mining industry is becoming more and more reliant on short-term contract workers and casual labour. The survey found, for instance, that over 60% of the platinum mines in the Rustenburg area use non-regular workers in order to avoid accountability and reduce their costs.

Overall nationally in South Africa, 36% of all platinum mines use subcontract labour, with researchers finding that many of the workers come from other southern African countries. That gives employers less direct responsibility in the event of injury or economic liability.

The Witwatersrand study said the number of subcontractors in South Africa’s mining sector increased from 90,231 in 2003 to 122,589 in 2005.

The study, commissioned by the government’s Labour Department, reveals that the trend is growing alarmingly. A spokesperson for the study, Professor Edward Webster, said a lesson can be drawn that the informal economy of three decades ago, which drew workers from the urban poor into unregistered enterprises, has now been replaced by formal enterprises utilizing more and more casual and subcontract workers.

The research also found that most employers surveyed do not adhere to stipulated wage minimums, resulting in exploitation and disempowerment of workers, and threats of dismissals are common if casual workers attempt to align with trade unions.

Labor Department Acting Director-General Les Kettledas told a news agency that the state has adequate laws and policies to prevent exploitation of short-term contract workers, but strategies to implement those policies and laws fall short. He said the aim of commissioning the university’s Sociology of Work Programme for the study was to assure corrective measures are implemented.

Kettledas admitted the findings are a reflection of the reality that now exists in the formal sectors.