The contribution of labour law and non–discrimination law to empowerment and social justice in an unequal society: a South African perspective

10 June 2016

The tragic events at the Marikana mine ( North-West Province, South Africa) in 2012 again underlined the vast inequalities that persist in South African society. Significant income differentials and disparities in quality of life remain pervasive in society, regardless of the fact that the statutory framework addresses unfair discrimination during recruitment, employment and termination. The South African regulatory framework extends beyond the workplace as a result of the Constitution that includes a Bill of Rights, along with generally applicable equality provisions, skills developments legislation, black economic empowerment legislation and sector-specific codes of conduct and charters. Regardless of this vast regulatory system, the achievement of equality or, arguably, a socially just society remains an elusive ideal for many South Africans. This contribution provides a brief overview of the statutory framework for promoting equality and preventing and eliminating unfair discrimination in South African workplaces. The contribution will highlight certain challenges that remain in the area of labour equality laws with regard to conceptual and application issues, and will argue that labour law in itself cannot address the problems facing a highly unequal society such as South Africa. However, where there are other non-discrimination laws and empowering statutes in place, greater emphasis must be placed on the coordination and integration of all relevant statutory instruments and on cultivating fundamental values and rights across the wide spectrum of society