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Durham University

Durham Law: Policy Engagement

Law's Dynamic Effects: The Case of South Africa

A Brief Introduction to the Project

One of the biggest challenges to poverty reduction and sustainable development in South Africa is the growing presence of the ‘working poor’, that is, workers who are in work but are paid such a low wage that they remain in poverty. A significant proportion of these workers can be found in South Africa's informal economy. Notwithstanding the extension of labour standards to informal workers, poor job quality and the reluctance of employers to formalize have resulted in chronic decent work deficits. The vulnerability of informal workers derives from a host of factors, including their inability to enforce labour rights, the absence of a collective voice, in addition to weak statutory inspection and enforcement mechanisms. Moreover, many informal workers are exposed to a higher risk of poverty, as compared to their counterparts in the formal economy, earning wages that fall below the statutory prescribed minima.

On the 1 January 2019, the South African government introduced the National Minimum Wage Act, 9 of 2018 (the NMW Act) with the aim of addressing excessive wage inequality and working poverty. Should this Act prove to be effective in meeting its aims, specifically in the informal economy, it would constitute a far-reaching component of the policy and regulatory framework advancing the decent work agenda in South Africa.


The project on ‘Law’s Dynamic Effects: The Case of South Africa’ centres on the NMW Act. It combines both doctrinal and interdisciplinary research methods to investigate the following primary issues:

  1. Whether the national minimum wage has dynamic effects in South Africa’s informal economy; more specifically, the domestic work, garment and fisheries sectors where levels of inspection and enforcement are negligible; and
  2. Whether innovative regulatory strategies have been developed and adopted by workers and employers in these sectors to extend the influence of the national minimum wage.

The overall objective of the project is to examine whether the dynamic effects associated with the national minimum wage in South Africa can be enhanced and harnessed for policy objectives, specifically those aimed at realising Goal 8 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals on decent work and economic growth.

The project is conducted by Sufia Singlee, a recipient of a PhD studentship from the University of Durham's newly established Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT). The CDT is supporting more than 20 students working on a specific challenge in one or more of the areas associated with the UN Sustainable Development Goals with all PhD students coming from a DAC nation. All CDT PhD projects are interdisciplinary and collaborations with universities in DAC countries.

Sufia’s research forms part of the overarching project on Decent Work Regulation, led by Professor Deirdre McCann. She will be supervised by Professor McCann together with Professor John Linarelli.