Traditionally, South Africa is considered to be one of the leading countries of the African continent. This country is characterized by a well developed economy that certainly positively singles the South African Republic out of other states of the continent. Nonetheless, it would be a great mistake to think that the situation in the country is perfect and there are no problems at all. In stark contrast, the South African Republic currently faces a number of problems, many of which are, to a significant extent, the result of the country’s history, notably of its official policy of apartheid. In fact, apartheid was one of the most discriminating policy in the world and its end was naturally welcome by all democratic and progressive people.
At the same time, the policy has gone but the problems remained. One of such problem is the problem of employment relations that exist in the country and which have started to shape wrongly from the beginning and nowadays the government, representative of employers and employees of both black and races have to reform and improve them in order to make employment relations really democratic and efficient. Actually, it is this problem that is in the focus of attention of E. Donnelly and S. Dunn who discussed it in their article “Ten Years After: South African Employment Relations since Negotiated Revolution”.
In fact, the authors attempt to trace the evolution of employment relations from the period of apartheid till the present moment and reveal the development of labour movement and the complexity of relations of the government, employers and employees represented by trade unions, especially those protecting the interests of black people severely discriminated in the past. In fact, Donnelly and Dunn attempt to analyze the achievements of post-apartheid South Africa focusing on the ambitious program of labour market reform which actually aims at the increase of the efficiency of the national economy at large and labour force in particular and at the democratization of employment relations. However, the assessment of the authors of the recent reforms is quite critical and their forecast is skeptical since, according to them there is still a lot of work to do to achieve the level of the highest standards of employment relations in the South African Republic.
First of all, E. Donnelly and S. Dunn start with the analysis of the historical development of employment relations in South Africa starting with the epoch of apartheid. To put it more precisely they are basically focused on the problems of employment relations, especially those caused by unjust policy of apartheid which was totally discriminating for black population of the country. In fact the authors attempt to trace the complexity of employment relations in the country since the beginning of the 20th century and properly assess the development of labour movements and the increasing of anti-apartheid opposition within the country.
It is noteworthy that the authors of the article attempt to compare the situation in South Africa to the situation in East European countries which suffered from communism for almost a half of the century. This comparison seems to be quite interesting and it is a very useful tool which helps better understand the undemocratic and inhuman nature of the regime reining in South Africa in the epoch of apartheid which, according to Donnelley and Dunn was similar to the communist regimes in East Europe.
However, it is necessary to clearly distinguish differences between the states that the authors defined basically as purely economic since South Africa could be characterized by a free market economy while East Europe was characterized by well developed plan economy. In this respect, it is necessary to point out that the authors should go further and emphasize that the difference between the country was not only economy but also in social and cultural spheres that affected employment relations dramatically. Regardless, discriminating character of labour movement in the South African Republic it operated in free market economy which functioned on the basis of principles similar to democratic country but discriminating measures in relation to black population of the country made these relations totally unjust and undemocratic.
At the same time, the authors of the article are right when they estimate that the government of South Africa oppressed the development of labour movements, especially trade unions protecting the interest of black employees. Actually the discrimination was so strong that black people had not even got the status of employees, and consequently were practically deprived of any rights.
As a result, Donnelley and Dunn make a very important conclusion that in the result of discriminating policy in employment relations there appeared two discrete employment relations cultures in South Africa. On the one hand, there were traditional UK relations where a lot of attention was paid to effort, skill exclusiveness and status and pay differentials and it was basically white people who benefited from such relations. On the other hand, there remained black population that suffered from ‘racial despotism’ in employment relations and was deprived of a possibility to get any formal job control. In such a situation black employees had to develop their labour movement in order to protect their interest but this movement was severely oppressed by the state.
Nonetheless, the development of black trade unions was unstoppable since the power of labour force formed by black population was getting to be extremely significant for the national economy. In such a situation, as Donnelley and Dunn justly remark, 1973 was a kind of watershed when black labour movement really became a significant power able to organize a strike and protect their economic interests. At the same time, it should be pointed out that the authors’ assessment of incorporation strategy used by the South African government is quite arguable. Naturally, it is possible to admit that the government, which stood on apartheid ground, could implement this strategy and admit black trade unions and labour movement in order to tame black population of the country but it does not sound very persuasive. In fact, such interpretation creates an impression that it was the government that totally controlled the situation and it is only due to its free will that trade unions organized by black people and black employees had got some rights. Obviously, such interpretation is quite arguable and it is possible to presuppose that it is basically due to the growing power of black people’s labour movement they managed to gain their rights and start their way to gain the equality with white people, or at least improve significantly their employment relations.
In such a situation, as black labour movement steadily grew in power, it was quite logical that eventually the epoch of apartheid ended with a complete defeat but, as Donnelley and Dunn emphasize, its rudiments may be still found even in the contemporary employment relations in South Africa. In this respect, it is necessary to underline that the authors dwell upon the post-apartheid reform as a very important point in the improvement of employment relations in the country. Obviously, any serious research would be unreliable if the reform was omitted because in order to properly understand the current situation in South African employment relations it is necessary to analyze the reform which actually started to change traditional employment relations developed in the epoch of apartheid and currently shapes it with some elements of the past epoch. This is why it is possible to appreciate such attention from the part of the authors to the past, including apartheid and reform that contributes to the logical structure of the article and makes it well structured.
Moreover, it should be said that this section of the article is justly quite critical in relation to those who belief that the reform should aim at ‘normalization’ of employment relations. In fact, the situation really needed improvement and not just normalization of employment relations.
At the same time, it is also extremely important to underline that Donnelley and Dunn realize the ambiguity of the reform which on the one hand was quite progressive and unquestionably positive for the improvement of the position of black employees and their access to job control. Moreover, the reform led to overlapping of employment relations and political relations. However, on the other hand, it is also true that employment relations should be basically focused on economic domain and not on political one since the epoch of apartheid ended and there is no real need to develop political relations on the basis of employment ones. Instead, in order to make employment relations really efficient, it is necessary to focus on purely socio-economic domain. In such a way trade unions and new institutions formed in the result of the reform should not be politicized but focus on their direct socio-economic purposes, though not very successfully.
In fact, in order to better realize the drawbacks of the reform and its weaknesses, it is necessary to analyze further the article where Donnelley and Dunn discuss the institution building. It should be pointed out that after the end of the epoch of apartheid, as the reform was implemented, one of the basic institutions that was created at the epoch was the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC). In fact, the authors of the article are very critical in relation to this organization and to a significant extent they are right though it is still hardly possible to make unarguable conclusions as for this institution.
Obviously, Donnelley and Dunn are right that NEDLAC is one of the basic corporatist elements of the post-apartheid employment relations system that includes four chambers: unions, employees, the government, and disadvantaged groups. Also the authors of the article properly assessed the risks such an institution may expose. To put it more precisely, it is the problem that have been already mentioned above, i.e. the problem of ambiguity of the reform and so ambiguous is NEDLAC since there is still a great risk that each chamber representing certain social category would protect its corporatist interests and it may go further than purely economic arguments and, as the authors of the article presuppose, it may even become an arena for political battles and, at first glance, socio-economic institution would become a tool for achievements of political goals.
However, it seems as if Donnelley and Dunn are to radical in their forecasts and in their current vision of the situation. In fact, they agree that a ten year period after the reform is too short to definitely estimate whether it succeeded or failed. Nonetheless, they still are very skeptical about NEDLAC but it is possible to argue that it is quite natural that after the negotiated revolution practically all legislative acts, new institutions, etc. bear political shadow and NEDLAC cannot be an exception. As a result, the current risks of undesirable penetration of politics within this institution is quite natural and could be eliminated as the socio-economic relations, including employment relations, would be improved, or ‘normalized’ as some specialists say.
In other words, the current risks of transformation of NEDLAC in arena for political battles is a natural transitional period from the epoch of revolution to the normal life when socio-economic interests would eventually prevail over political ones.
At the same time, it is noteworthy that Donnelley and Dunn, point out a very important trend to shift from left-orientation to the domination of right-orientation in national politics and economy, including employment relations. In fact, such a conclusion is quite logical though probably not fully explained by the authors of the article since such a transition in interests and views is quite natural because in an open market economy there is really little room for left socially oriented economy and increasing control from the part of the state. On the other hand, such a shift may be quite dangerous for the future of employment relations because it threatens to deteriorate the position of employees that is particularly dangerous in the situation when black population still has not fully recovered from the epoch of apartheid.
Finally, Donnelley and Dunn conclude their article on summarizing the achievement of ten years after the reform with the idea that the current situation in the South African Republic is quite contradictory and needs improvement. To put it more precisely, they are very critical in relation to corporatism of NEDLAC and instead they suggest to develop labour forums. However, in such a way they actually suggest to decrease the importance of labour movement and, consequently, to weaken the position of employees since they would hardly be able protect their interests without proper representation on the national level in such an institution as NEDLAC. Though, it is also obvious that this institution needs further improvement as the whole reform at large since it is hardly possible to argue that South Africa needs more flexible economy and employment relations where all participants obey to the same rule of a fair play.
Thus, in conclusion it should be said that the authors of the article are strategically right at the point that the post-apartheid reform turned to be quite good though far from perfect and that the inherited inequality in employment relations should be eliminated but this is the task for a long-term perspective. In such a way, Donnelley and Dunn have managed to create quite a persuasive article though not an indisputable one, well structured and logical. But what is even more important they raise very important questions the answers for which should be found in possibly shorter terms because, unfortunately, it is hardly possible to delay the solution of the problems defined by the authors of the article. Thus, despite their forecasts as for possible long-term solution of these problems it would be better that inequality in South Africa at large and in employment relations in particular were eliminated. Otherwise, there is no guarantee that the future of South Africa would be really democratic and just.