Trade unions and the redesign of South Africa’s minimum wage-setting institutions in the 1990s

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Jeremy Seekings
South African trade unions’ criticisms in the 2010s of the institutional framework for minimum-wage-setting mark a dramatic departure from the central role they played in the design of these institutions in the 1990s. The four key features of the institutional framework – i.e. the emphasis on sectoral rather than national wage-setting, the primacy attached to collective bargaining, the role of technocrats in wage-setting in sectors where there was insufficient worker or employer organisation for effective collective bargaining, and the stipulation that employment effects be taken into account in setting minima in unorganised sectors – all reflected concerns raised by trade unions themselves. The trade unions’ approach in the 1990s reflected their own sectoral organisational form, their strong shopfloor organisation and distrust of the state, and anxieties about job destruction (especially in unions in labour-intensive sectors and among allied intellectuals).
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