The labor market in South Africa

Updated 2014-07-04 09:54

Young professionals moving to South Africa to work are advised to inquire on its labor market beforehand. Here is an overview.

Among all the countries in Africa, South Africa has the largest economy and therefore also the largest labour market, particularly due to its vibrant mining sector. That said, there is a tremendously high unemployment rate, often quoted as 25% by government and up to 35% by independent researchers. The full extent of SA's labour force is around 18 million people.

This is often a disconcerting piece of information for those immigrating to South Africa, especially those wanting to apply for work visas. While this is totally understandable, expats usually are well-qualified individuals who should not worry or stress about finding positions in the country. One of the reasons South Africa has a high unemployment rate is due to the lack of educated skills that it possesses, and therefore those with post-schooling qualifications have an excellent chance of securing jobs. In truth, a large percentage of the unemployed workers in the country are very young, and many of the unskilled people are also quite old - neither of these groups makes any job more or less obtainable for an immigrant or expat. In fact, the unskilled labour market has recently been dominated by an influx of desperate refugees from other African countries, who are willing to work for the minimum wage.

Labor force

As mentioned, South Africa's labour market is predominately unskilled or semi-skilled labour, and many have graduated from "technicon" institutions with a strong focus on hands-on education as opposed to a theory focus at SA's universities. Some sectors employing most of the labour force are mining, government and agriculture, with private households employing a large portion of the workforce as domestic assistants. Due to this blue collar core of workers, trade unions play a big role in South African labour relations.


Legislation within the labour market has tightened drastically since 1994 when South Africa emerged from its previous Apartheid regime. The most important acts are mainly in favor of the employee, and are: the Labour Relations Act, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, the Employment Equity Act and the Skills Development Act. Expats immigrating to South Africa can easily operate within this labour market landscape, either as employees or employers, by simply keeping abreast of changes regarding these pieces of labour law.

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