Project Proposal: Developing a Model for Decent Work in the Digital Platform Economy
Deepening social inequality, widespread poverty and mass unemployment, embody South Africa’s most fundamental challenge. Whereas standard employment1 once constituted the major income source for households, more and more workers have become dependent on households to support them during periods of under- or unemployment. This is part of a much-debated global process that has been unfolding over several decades. Technological advance and structural change have been accompanied by growing reliance on cheap and easily-exploited ‘non-standard’ workers, as well as a shift of production from developed to developing countries where workers have less protection. Decentralisation of work, indirect forms of control and fragmentation of the workforce have been among the consequences. The impact on labour relations and labour law has been far-reaching. The shift from standard employment to non-standard forms of work has eroded the traditional basis of trade unions and, with it, the basis for collective bargaining. Labour law, however, has not yet responded adequately to these changes. In South Africa, as in many countries, the contract of employment and collective bargaining remain the legal norm and effective legal regulation remains largely confined to the sphere of standard employment. Despite newly- enacted measures for the protection of non-standard employees, there has been no paradigm shift to encompass a new world of work: myriad forms of precarious work where workers are subject to wages and conditions below the legal minimum for standard employees, often without formal contracts, and not registered for unemployment insurance or other forms of social security.