Solidarity with workers in South Africa

Millions of workers in South Africa have to get by on extremely low wages and with no social security. Our partner on the ground, the Casual Workers Advice Office (CWAO) helps workers employed under precarious conditions.

Rich country, exploited workers

South Africa is an industrialised country with a natural resource endowment, productive agricultural sector and huge cultural wealth. Yet regular workers do not benefit from this – rather they are often exploited as ‘labour broker workers’.

Demonstrant*innen gegen extreme Ungleichheit in Südafrika Demonstrant*innen gegen extreme Ungleichheit in Südafrika

Demonstration against social inequality in Johannesburg. © REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Legal advice and meeting point

The CWAO was founded in the industrial area of Johannesburg in 2011. It provides legal advice to workers on temporary and precarious contracts. The CWAO organises weekly gatherings at the association’s offices or online via Zoom.

Successful court rulings

In total, 80% of the cases that CWAO pursues in the courts are ruled in favour of the worker. CWAO has also been involved in legal cases that have been taken to the Constitutional Court of South Africa.

A precedent from 2018 led to a change in the labour law – now, workers on temporary contracts can demand permanent positions with better wages and greater legal certainty. An example of the impact of this is the case of employees at a Ferrero SA chocolate factory; until 2018, 257 of the 354 workers were employed on temporary contracts, some of them for a period of up to ten years. Following the court ruling, the workers obtained a permanent employment contract. Yet the fight for labour rights continues, because many contracts are ‘zero hours contracts’ that do not guarantee a sufficient income.

CWAO has since inspired numerous other legal advisory centres around South Africa. Its online handbook outlines the most important labour law provisions and rulings and enables workers throughout the country to benefit from CWAO’s knowledge.

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