Diversité des expressions culturelles

Observatoire mondial sur la condition sociale de l'artiste

South Africa - Social dialogue

Trade union freedom
Section 23 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 and the Labour Relations Act, 1995 guarantee the right of individuals to form, join and participate in the legal activities of trade unions.

South Africa has a vibrant trade union movement that played a major role in the struggle against apartheid.  The major trade union federation – the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) – is a political alliance partner of the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC).  There are at least three other national trade union federations that adopt a more politically independent stance.

The Performing Arts Workers Equity (PAWE) is a member of COSATU, but it is relatively weak.  In accordance with COSATU’s policy that there be one union representing one industry, PAWE and the Musicians Union of South Africa (MUSA) are in the process of merging to form one union – the Creative Workers Union of South Africa (CWUSA) - to represent the entertainment industry.  This initiative is relatively new, and it will be a while before the union has developed sufficient credibility and national membership to be a force.

All public sector workers may belong to trade unions except workers who are employed by the National Defence Force, the National Intelligence Agency and the South African Secret Service.

In terms of the Labour Relations Act, it is illegal to prevent or pressurize a worker from forming or joining a trade union.

Union prerogatives
Section 8 of the Labour Relations Act, 1995 states that trade unions have the right to determine their constitution and rules, to hold elections for its office-bearers, to plan and organize its administration and lawful activities and to join and participate the activities of national and international federations of trade unions.

Consultations of the Unions by the State
On issues of economic policy, government has created a forum for business, the unions and government to meet and discuss matters of mutual concern before policy is adopted and implemented.  In the arts sector, no such forum exists.  If there is consultation with the arts sector, it is on an ad hoc basis.  After the initial close consultation between government and the arts sector around new cultural policies (post-1994), the last 8 years have been characterised by a lack of consultation, and even hostility on the part of government towards organisations formed by artists, particularly those that have challenged it on various issues.

At provincial levels, the situation is more nuanced in that provincial government departments responsible for arts and culture have engaged constructively with artist organisations around policy and strategic matters.

Main activities of unions over the past five years and current demands
The three unions that exist are relatively new, e.g. the SA Script Writers Association (SASWA), or in decline, e.g. the Performing Arts Workers Equity (PAWE), or in consultation around the establishment of a new union.  Much of the last five years have been taken up with vision, capacity, funding and administrative challenges within the unions themselves.

Other NGOs within the arts sector have been more active than unions in the defence of the rights of workers, largely as a consequence of the ineffectiveness of the unions.

In the last five years, the primary concerns of these NGOs have included:
i) monitoring the management of policy and projects by government and public funding bodies and intervening where necessary to protect their members’ interests
ii) offering training courses for their members to help them to be effective within the unfolding conditions e.g. how to draft budgets, devising publicity and marketing campaigns, fund-raising to the private sector, etc.
iii) gathering and distributing information through regular newsletters to keep members informed of developments within the sector
iv) hosting forums, competitions and events to develop the sector but also to provide opportunities for members to have outlets for their creative work
v) building internal capacity through training, leadership seminars, mentorships, etc.
vi) undertaking research into the creative industries as a basis for reflecting on the gains made in the last eleven years, and setting a vision and strategies for further development of the sector in the next five years

The current trade unions are not engaged in ancillary activities at the moment.  The most active trade union is the SA Script Writers Association that runs regular training courses in scriptwriting and related fields for its members.

Law or regulations governing these matters: Trade union matters are governed by the Labour Relations Act, 1995.


Collective agreements
The Labour Relations Act, 1995 provides for the establishment of Bargaining Councils in which registered trade unions and registered employer organisations within a particular industry participate in order to debate and conclude collective agreements for their sector.  There are no examples of significant social benefits obtained through collective agreements.

There are no collective agreements per sector.  Mainly because there are no unions or employer bodies per sector. Again the main problem is articulated in the research document produced by the Performing Arts Workers Equity in 2000 where it states “…as the (Labour Relations Act) excludes self-employed workers/independent contractors, they would be…excluded from the ambit of collective agreements concluded in terms of the Act.  The situation at present is that most performing arts workers labour under individual contracts which are generally prejudicial to their interests.”  The same would hold true for artists in other areas such as the visual arts, literature, film, etc.

Promotion of social dialogue
There are no bodies that exist specifically for the promotion of social dialogue.  Public discourse and debate around the arts have been largely absent in the last eight years since the adoption of the White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage.  It is an irony that now that freedom of creative expression and freedom to debate and express opinions are constitutionally guaranteed (whereas they were restricted under apartheid), there has been a decline in the substance, range and regularity of public discourse around the arts.

Where social dialogue takes place, it is on an ad hoc basis as the consequence of the programmes or initiatives of non-government organisations operating in the creative industries.

Status of such bodies : The bodies engaged in, or promoting social dialogue around arts-related issues are mainly non-government organisations.

Mediation and/or appeals
The Labour Relations Act, 1995 establishes the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for labour-related disputes.  Public funding bodies have their own mechanisms for appeal, but there are no bodies that exist primarily for the resolution of general disputes within the cultural sector.

Status of such bodies : The CCMA is a public body. 

It is considered to be of huge importance to other industries, but it has little, if any, practical significance within the cultural sector at the moment.


Source: UNESCO, December 2005.

  • Federations and trade unions

- Musicians Union of South Africa (MUSA): musicianssa@telkomsa.net
- Performing Arts Workers Equity (PAWE): (in process of merging with MUSA, so no website or e-mail address) http://www.cosatu.org.za/affiliates/affipawe.htm
- South African Script Writers Association SASWA: www.saswa.org.za

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