PB 16/46 - Vulnerability in the Labour Market: Jobs, Livelihood Strategies & Poverty in South Africa

Haroon Bhorat, Kezia Lilenstein, Morné Oosthuizen and Amy Thornton

Date of Publication: 
November 2016

This brief explores the two most well-understood ways in which workers can be vulnerable: low pay and informality. Background is provided for the prevalence of each in South Africa, as well as their intersection. An important question is whether or not the low paid are the same people as the informally employed, or whether these are separate groups of workers. Additionally, to what degree does each type of vulnerability correspond with our idea of poverty? South Africa’s labour market is defined by the triple characteristics of high unemployment, high wage inequality, and high poverty. This has led to jobs being heralded as the solution to reducing unemployment, and thereby reducing poverty and inequality. However, it is not necessarily the case in South Africa that a job will pull a person out of poverty. Jobs could be too low paid; or, there could be a lot of uncertainty surrounding whether the worker will still be employed in the near future. Alternatively, jobs could lack pension deductions or a written contract. Collectively, jobs of this type are called ‘vulnerable’ or ‘precarious’ because they put workers at risk in one way or another.

View Policy Brief: DPRU PB 16/46