South African Labour Law Mapping the Changes — Part 1: The History of Labour Law and its Institutions

Authors Paul Benjamin & Halton Cheadle

ISSN: 2413-9874
Source: Industrial Law Journal, Volume 40 Issue 4, 2019, p. 2189 – 2218


The article gives an overview of the development of South African labour law in the period since 1994. While the basic model of modern South African labour law was established by 1999, the following two decades have seen an ongoing process of reform, contestation and adaptation. Post-apartheid legislation saw the establishment of new institutions including the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, the Labour Court and the Labour Appeal Court. On the other hand, existing institutions such as the industrial councils were reformulated as bargaining councils with enhanced functions. The Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995 established a right to strike while simultaneously removing the duty to bargain that had emerged under the industrial court’s post-1980 unfair labour practice jurisdiction. While the period until 2006 saw a significant decline in strike activity, there has subsequently been an increase in the intensity and duration of strikes. Among the factors contributing to this are enhanced inequality, labour market casualisation and declining negotiating capacity. Legislation that came into effect on 1 January 2019 represented a response to this issue with the enactment of a national minimum wage as well as provisions dealing with picketing, strike ballots and prolonged strikes.