Financial Data
Updated 15 Sep 2019


An ongoing debate: Labour in the construction sector

In 2017, the construction industry’s revenue and output continued to plummet. Amidst political uncertainty, slow economic growth and an underperforming economy, just how do you look to tighten up?


Wayne Bartlett , 24 June 2018  Share  0 comments  Print


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Naturally, the sector panicked, and unemployment continued to soar. More than 19 000 jobs were lost in 2017 as the construction sector tried to claw back through diversification into areas such as property management, social housing, renewable energy projects and road infrastructure. 

Poor industry performance has massive implications on labour. Many labourers have become reliant on the trade with the industry employing a considerable number of labourers (skilled and unskilled) - both directly and through labour brokers.

Related: Essential tips for emerging construction businesses in South Africa

As with anything, keeping price down in this sector is crucial. The industry was forced to re-evaluate and deploy new methods and technologies. Physical labour is key to any construction site and we don’t foresee this changing in the years to come. While mechanisation is on the rise, the construction industry still relies heavily on people, so this once again adds to costs.

Still an opportunity for growth

Brick and mortar, in the most literal sense, still plays a part in South Africa. We still want to touch, see and experience what we pay for however, in the construction sector, employment and stability is very much reliant on how the industry is performing.

Skilled labour shortage in South Africa has always been an issue. We couple this with the need to compete on price whilst factoring in labour issues, BEE policies, trade unions, various regulatory changes and labour brokers. In February 2018, third-party suppliers once again came into the spotlight with labour brokers arguing that removing them from the employment equation would trample the rights and protection of employees.

This dispute has been going on for quite some time, in fact a CCMA case was launched in 2015 as the result of an amendment to the Act. The Act stated that labour brokers could only place workers in temporary contracts for three months, following which clients could absorb them into permanent employment.

Related: Funding for black-owned construction and engineering businesses

What can you do as a business leader?

Despite conflicting views, labour brokers still have a role to play in uncertain economic times, provided that they are properly regulated. This market is huge for people wishing to enter the workplace and needing a platform to do so.

Issues around unfair dismissals and how much responsibility a labour broker takes comes up more and more. With the industry set for good growth this year, the need for even more labour creates blurred lines between the construction industry and labour brokers once again.

With the YES initiative soon coming into effect, the construction industry looks to empowering and upskilling the youths both in-line with labour brokers and as individual entities.

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About the author


Wayne Bartlett

Wayne Bartlett is the Contracts Director at family-run construction firm, Bartlett Construction. With more than 40 years of experience in the construction industry and more specifically at Bartlett Construction, Wayne has helped grow the company to 50+ employees. The firm works on key projects around SA and has a property development arm too.

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