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The growing informalisation of work: Challenges for labour – recent developments to improve the rights of atypical workers

Rudi Dicks


The South African labour market faces a number of challenges; key to this is the shift from formal employment to atypical work. This phenomenon is not a South African problem but a growing challenge to labour throughout the world. The growing informalisation of the workforce brings significant changes to the traditional employment relationship, including the workplace. Informalisation is characterised by workers shifting from permanent employment to casual employment and fixed-term contracts, outsourcing and employment through labour brokers. These forms of employment are accompanied by growing insecurity of employment, the undermining of basic conditions of employment, the erosion of workplace rights and decreasing access to skills and equity at work. While it is important to understand these changes, society does not seem to have accepted that there is a new form of employment relationship. Various proposals and legislative considerations should be assessed to address and stem the tide of atypical work. These should include improving minimum standards and providing enhanced protection to atypical workers; improving monitoring and enforcement and reforming labour market institutions to better confront the shift from permanent to casualised employment. Research indicates that the shift from formal employment to atypical forms of employment is on the increase. Many workers who exit the labour market having been in formal employment will most likely re-enter the market as an atypical employee. This has had, and will continue to have, a major impact on the character of the workforce. It leads to instability within the labour market and impacts negatively on employment growth, and on the reduction of underemployment and poverty and decreasing inequality. The consequences are greater social and economic insecurity. Existing legislation does not emphasise the protection and improvement of the rights of atypical workers. Organised labour has made useful recommendations for improving protection for atypical workers; particularly those employed in triangular employment relationships. Due consideration should be given to possible legislative changes; the establishment of a tripartite statutory body to regulate labour brokers; the development of a code of good practice for workers engaged in atypical employment contracts and improving monitoring and enforcement mechanism through tougher penalties.