International Perspectives and Parallels in Labour markets

by EDGREN, G., 2006
Transformation Critical Perspectives on Southern Africa January 2006, pp.13- 35

The article focuses on the apartheid era which left South Africa as a ‘special case’ in the field of labour market analysis, with large gaps of human development particularly in older generations, a huge degree of under utilisation of its labour force, and difficult tensions in its industrial relations. As if this heritage were not enough, the 1990s brought another scourge with potentially disastrous consequences for the life and work of the people of this country, in the form of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. For those who study South Africa’s labour market, it is often hard to see many useful parallels with developments in other countries, in view of all these dramatic challenges. And yet, there is a lot to be learned from international comparisons, even between countries with different development histories. Labour markets function with surprising similarity in countries with very different economic and social structures, although it is not always easy to draw analytical conclusions from such parallels and even more difficult to base policy recommendations on them. The focus of the present paper is on finding examples of analyses and case histories on relevant themes that could stimulate and deepen the discussion in South Africa. The project aims primarily to identify priorities for future labour market research rather than to formulate recommendations for policy intervention. That is also the purpose of the present paper.