Yesterday TRADE presented the first brown bag lunchtime seminar of 2016 featuring Prof Nik Theodore of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Prof Nik is in South Africa as part of a research project with Derick and Anmar and Rienie Schenk at UWC. The title of his presentation was: Exploring the frontier zones of the South African economy: Migration and day labour in Tswane.
He put the work into context by showing that there is an established literature on informal entrepreneurs, but less work on the informal labour market. His own interest is specifically in the migrant workers and the gateway cities in South Africa. The informal labour market for day labourers is characterised by unequal structures and adverse incorporation of migrant workers – and they make up a large share of those workers. Their 2015 survey in Tswane showed the of the 335 day labourers surveyed, 56% were foreign born and 89% of them were from Zimbabwe. Of the 44% South Africans, 40% were from Mpumalanga and 35% were from Limpopo province. Economically displaced workers go to the cities.
The team’s research shows that day labouring is unstable and insecure work: on average a worker will find work 1.2 days per week and earn around R280 per week. The daily unemployment rate at the different sites in Tswane is 80%. The foreign born workers are particularly vulnerable.
They also find few significant determinants of earnings that correspond with human capital theory. Neither education, nor vocational training, nor the number of jobs worked seem to matter. Workers that have been hired by the same employer more than three times, have higher earnings on average. This speaks to the problems of signalling skills or dependability in this market. Prof Nik finds that there are no institutions or social norms that would raise wages in the day labour market.
He ended with a few thoughts on points of intervention and discussed some of the successes of the day labour worker centers in the US. The key success factor is collective action by the workers.
We look forward to the future research by this team.