Although the first recorded May Day celebration in South Africa dates back to 1895, we have only officially celebrated Worker’s Day since 1994. We recognise this day, in South Africa and in 80 countries around the world, in an effort to ensure fair labour practices and employment standards for all workers.
A workforce emerges
The need for legislation pertaining to workers’ rights arose from the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century. While manufacturing processes and opportunities for mass production garnered all the attention, little thought was given to the inhumane practices faced by the workforce.
Work days spanning 10 to 16 hours were common and the work week was a full seven days. There was no such thing as a lunch break or overtime. The workplaces were filthy and polluted and workers were regularly killed, injured or sickened in these unsafe and hazardous conditions. Children were expected to work, and being smaller, were preferred over adults to fit into small spaces in factories and mines. Wages were often paid in the form of food, and where money was paid, employers paid as little as they could get away with. Women were paid less than men and children were hardly paid at all.
The tide turns
In Britain, the first law to address employment practices focused on the employment of children, the Cotton Factories Regulation Act of 1819, set the minimum working age at 9 and the maximum number of daily working hours at 12. From there, laws were implemented on both sides of the Atlantic addressing work-related issues, albeit slowly and inadequately.
Our South African context
The first legislation in South Africa that really addressed labour issues was the Industrial Conciliation Act of 1924 which later became the Labour Relations Act of 1956. As you would expect for legislation drafted during apartheid, it was not inclusive.
Today, the main employment law statutes enjoyed in South Africa include the Labour Relations Act, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, the Employment Equity Act, the Skills Development Act, the Unemployment Insurance Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act.
Just as important as having the appropriate legislation and having fair labour practices and employment standards in place for all workers, is the ability to navigate the vast corpus of ever-changing labour-related legal information.
Sabinet makes labour law work for you
Sabinet Labour makes navigation quick and easy by providing up to date reported and unreported labour judgments in full-text as they become available. View their fully searchable labour-related Acts with all their Rules and Regulations, updated Bargaining Council Agreements, direct links to the cases related to an Act or sections of the Act, and the current labour forms. Or stay abreast of current changes at a glance with the weekly newsletter. It’s all in a day’s work with Sabinet Labour
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