Labour & Enterprise Project

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Labour & Enterprise Project


The Labour and Enterprise Project (LEP) has been operating as a research project since 1999, when the Small Enterprise Project, based in the Institute of Development and Labour Law, merged with the Industrial Relations Project, based in the Department of Sociology.

LEP's primary objectives are to conduct research with a view to influencing government and trade union policies as well as to contribute to the academic endeavour of the university.[1] LEP's areas of focus are as follows:

  • Labour market regulation and labour market trends

  • Small enterprise development

  • Strategies for employment creation

  • Worker organisation

  • Work organisation and decision-making structures

  • Industrial relations structures and processes

  • Enterprise participation and performance

  • Industrial strategy, policy and restructuring

  • Co-operatives.

When the Small Enterprise Project and the Industrial Relations Project were established in the early 1990s, the previous government was attempting to promote deregulation of the labour market, in line with trends in the United Kingdom and the United States. Initially, the focus of the Small Enterprise Project's research was on labour rights and industrial relations frameworks in small businesses to ensure that changes in the regulation of the labour market would not compromise hard-fought worker protections. The focus on small businesses was chosen because it served as a proxy for examining how employment was being restructured globally.

The focus of the Industrial Relations Project was on studying the shift to centralised bargaining by the new non-racial trade unions. It also looked at whether the centralised bargaining council system was accommodating (or not) the circumstances and problems of small firms. This saw the intersection of the two projects and provided the basis for their merger.

After the merger, LEP began to focus increasingly on how the nature of work and employment is changing, with a view to informing debates on the design of a regulatory framework and industrial relations system that would optimise employment creation, efficiency and protect workers' rights. They also started researching co-operatives because these potentially provide an alternative form of enterprise that can stimulate job creation.

Jan Theron became involved in this work because it provided a sense of continuity with his previous involvement in the trade union movement and out of his concern for the position of certain categories of marginalised workers, who are inadequately catered for within current labour legislation. Currently in South Africa there are many firms that have outsourced a range of operations to other firms. The result is that a factory might have a number of workforces nominally working for different employers but all beholden to the client firm. This has resulted in a significant downgrading of workers' conditions of service.

Shane Godfrey and Theron's work in this field is fairly unique in South Africa today. In the 1990s there was a large research community working on labour-related issues and many donors were keen to fund labour-oriented research. Now there is only a handful of research groups that continue to focus on labour: LEP, the Sociology of Work Unit (SWOP) at the University of the Witwatersrand, a unit in Durban, one in Port Elizabeth and Naledi, the research arm of Cosatu. They are therefore part of a small community of scholars researching issues related to labour and they maintain a loose co-operative network with their colleagues. LEP is currently part of a consortium led by the HSRC to undertake research for the Department of Labour.

At one point LEP tried to raise money to build research capacity among students with an interest in labour-related issues. They obtained some seed funding from the University Research Committee to run methodology workshops. About 35 people from UCT, the University of the Western Cape and non-governmental organisations participated in these workshops. Their aim was to encourage people to go onto postgraduate work and possibly become interns at research units. But the project has been suspended, mainly because of capacity and resource constraints.

Approach to research

Godfrey and Theron believe that their location at a university is critical to their ability to provide credible and critical research because it affords them independence from the labour movement as well as from government. Their university location enables them to determine their own research questions, to focus on categories of workers who are not the primary focus of organised labour (such as marginal workers), and to examine government policy critically.

They tend to use a traditional research model as they are solely responsible for determining their research methodology and interpreting their findings. However, when they are commissioned to do work for other agencies, such as the Department of Labour, they do elicit feedback from the commissioning agency about their proposed research design and findings.

The form of social responsiveness that characterises LEP's work can best be described as providing a service to society through research and policy support, rather than engaged research which involves two-way communication.

Factors influencing LEP's research

LEP's ability to determine their own research questions is, however, increasingly affected by their need to do contract fund-generating research. The core funding they receive from the Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging (FNV), a Dutch trade union federation, covers only 40% of their costs. This core funding is critical because it affords LEP independence and enables them to produce critical, basic research.

Godfrey and Theron believe that if they were forced to become entirely reliant on contract work they wouldn't have the freedom to conduct original research. In other words, they would have to yield to the research agendas of external agencies, such as the Department of Labour. They fear that if they are forced to take on more contract research to survive, their capacity to undertake research on the marginalised sections of the labour force could be eroded. The quality of their research could also be undermined because of the time pressures associated with contract research.

Being entirely dependent on contract research would open them to the danger of working only in areas that attract contracts. Given the fact that there are few research units in South Africa that continue to do research on the more marginalised sections of the workforce, and on alternative forms of employment, further loss of capacity in this area would impact on the country's ability to generate strategies to reduce unemployment while protect workers' rights.

Value to UCT

Godfrey and Theron say government has often referred to LEP's work in relation to critical challenges facing the country, such as poverty alleviation and job creation. They suggest that UCT be credited for this, despite a minimum investment from the university's side. It should also be noted that the academic community benefits from their research, through their publications and frequent presentations at conferences.

Godfrey and Theron suggest that their work is inextricably bound up in the university's role of promoting public good and addressing the critical development challenges facing society. They maintain that the university would not be fulfilling its mandate, or would fall behind, if it did not promote research on how the workplace is changing. This raises questions about the role and responsibilities of public higher education institutions, donors and research agencies in ensuring that a focus on the public remains integral to the research agendas of African universities.

Impact on teaching

Godfrey and Theron have made a conscious effort to feed their research into teaching, particularly at the postgraduate level, because they are committed to a meaningful interaction between the university and LEP.

For the past five years Godfrey has been teaching a course at honours and master's levels in the Department of Sociology, one that is part of a programme on workplace change and labour law.

The course examines debates about flexibility within the labour market and draws heavily on LEP's empirical research on various aspects of the new regulatory framework.

They have taught similar courses in the Faculty of Law in the past. They also supervise honours and master's students in both the law and humanities faculties.


The value of LEP is closely related to the way it bridges the academic and policy environment. They try to ensure that academic research informs policies and policy formulation processes. Their aim is to infuse the policy advocacy processes with academic perspectives. They produce research reports and discussion papers, talk to trade unions, organisations in civil society and government about their research findings.

They also believe that it is important to publish in academic journals but they always try to "get out a popular article" based on their academic research to ensure wider dissemination of their work. They would like to promote public debate by publishing more articles in the press but simply don't have the time. They are constantly balancing the pressure to generate income with their own desire to do original research - and meet the pressure from the university to produce peer-reviewed journal articles.

Evaluation & impact

It is difficult to assess the impact of LEP's work because the outcomes of their activities are generally influenced by multiple factors and variables. But there have been instances where it has been easier to measure impact. For example, Theron suggests that LEP's research for the Department of Labour on the dispute resolution system almost certainly led to changes in the legislation. Another example is how their research influenced the debate about labour regulation and re-focused the attention of policy makers because their empirical research showed that bargaining councils were having a minimal impact on small businesses.

Their work has also influenced the terminology used to describe the changing nature of work. For example, their promotion of the terms 'casualisation' (in a narrower sense to that generally used), 'externalisation' and 'informalisation' has highlighted the relationship of these trends to the contract of employment and the legal framework that regulates it. Such an understanding is crucial to correctly identifying the causes of these phenomena and to developing appropriate policies for labour market regulation.

LEP's work also raises the profile of the university globally through its work for international bodies. For example, LEP has done a number of projects for the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and recently completed a project that examined the impact of trade liberalisation on labour law for the latter institution.


While the Faculty of Law has recently introduced changes with respect to the amount of money that research units receive from subsidised outputs, Godfrey and Theron feel that more needs to be done. They propose that the university reviews its funding strategies to take account of the fact that it easier to get support for research in the natural sciences than the social sciences. They also suggest that the university should reflect on how their mission to be research-led and contribute to development challenges translates into concrete support for research related to the poorest sections of the society. The university also needs to consider the introduction of a range of incentives to ensure projects like LEP remain located at the university. For example, they suggest that the university could consider allowing contract researchers to apply for short sabbaticals to produce more substantial pieces of research.

In addition, the university should be encouraged to see the variety of forms of research that the project does as valid and measurable, even where the outputs are not translated into peer-reviewed journal articles. The notion of peers could be redefined to include people from outside the academy - like those from international labour agencies and non- governmental organisations - who could judge the quality of the monographs produced. Their views highlight the challenges faced by projects like LEP, working at the interface of the academy and policy.

Joint Curriculum Vitae related to Social Responsiveness (2006)

Shane Godfrey and Jan Theron of the Labour and Enterprise Policy Research Group

Strategic or contract research

  • Co-operatives Project: The aim of this project is to examine 'successful' co-operatives in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape using a case study method, as well as getting an overview of co-operatives policy nationally. A project was established using seed money from the URC, which was supplemented by the German co-operative federation, DGRV.

  • Microfinance Project: A project started with URC funding that is seeking further funding to extend. The project has examined the National Credit Bill and the National Credit Act and the institutional framework for credit delivery. Empirical research is being done on micro-lenders and small and micro business borrowers.

  • Decent Work/Expanded Public Works Programme Project: A project done for the Labour Research Service on behalf of Solidar in Europe. It examines the EPWP through the lens of the ILO's Decent Work concept. The main research method was in-depth interviews with a limited number of people working in EPWP projects.

  • CASE Bargaining Council/Sectoral Determination Project: Assistance to CASE with the second phase of their project to establish a database of bargaining councils agreements and sectoral determinations.

  • Bargaining Council Project: On-going project on bargaining councils that has had various funding sources over the years. The aim of the project is to produce a monograph on the bargaining council system. Data gathering was boosted significantly in 2005 by the project on bargaining councils on small business commissioned by the Presidency.

  • The State of Collective Bargaining Project: A large project commissioned by the Department of Labour that will build on the base of the research on bargaining councils conducted for the Presidency in 2005. The aim is to examine further aspects of the bargaining council system as well as the broader system of collective bargaining in the country.

  • The Impact of Trade Liberalization: This is a project commissioned by the International Institute for Labour Studies, Geneva, examining the impact of trade liberalisation on labour standards and labour law. The object of the project was to undertake a number of country studies, of which South Africa was one.

  • The Measurement and Comparison of Labour Market Regulation: A large project commissioned by the Department of Labour that involves the examination of studies that benchmark labour regulation regimes relative to the flexibility of labour markets and the level of protection of workers. The objective is to develop an appropriate approach for South Africa with regard to these issues.

Peer-reviewed Publications

  • Creating Knowledge Networks, with G Kruss, G Klerck, A Paterson and S Godfrey. HSRC Press: Pretoria.

  • 'Regulating the Labour Market: The Role of Bargaining Councils', S Godfrey, J

  • Maree and J Theron. Industrial Law Journal, Vol. 27.

  • Labour Law Through the Cases (Service Issue 7), D du Toit (Ed.), T Cohen, W Everett, M Fouche, S Godfrey, G Giles, A Steenkamp, M Taylor, and P van Staden. Durban: LexisNexis Butterworths.

  • 'Flexibility in Bargaining Councils: The role of exemptions', S Godfrey, J Maree and J Theron. Industrial Law Journal, Vol. 27.

  • 'Labour Market Institutions: Emerging Trends', S Godfrey in Current Labour Law 2006, by H Cheadle, C Thompson, PAK Le Roux and A Van Niekerk. Durban: LexisNexis Butterworths.

  • Labour Relations Law (5th edition), with D du Toit, D Bosch, D Woolfrey, S Godfrey, C Cooper, G Giles, C Bosch and J Rossouw. Durban: LexisNexis Butterworths.

  • 'Can government facilitate participative workplace change? An examination of the Workplace Challenge Project in the Cape fish processing industry', S Godfrey and J Maree. Transformation.

Publications due out in 2006:

  • Labour Law Through the Cases (Service Issue 8), D du Toit (Ed.), T Cohen, W Everett, M Fouche, S Godfrey, G Giles, A Steenkamp, M Taylor, and P van Staden. Durban: LexisNexis Butterworths.

  • 'The 'casualization' debate: The challenge for organized labour', J Theron in 'COSATU and South Africa's triple transition: A reader.' Ed. Neil Coleman.

  • 'Membership based organizations of the poor: The South African tradition', J Theron in 'Membership based organizations of the poor', eds. Martha Chan, Renana Jhabvala, Ravi Kanbur and Carol Thomas. Routledges.

Providing Expert Advice/Consultancies

Jan Theron is a member of a panel of experts for Women on Farms regarding the establishment of co-operatives for women in Stellenbosch


Jan Theron was a Senior Part-time Commissioner of the CCMA until June 2006, when he resigned this office.

Conference and workshop presentations

  • Shane Godfrey presented paper, 'Labour Market Regulation and Small Business: Re-defining the role of Bargaining Councils' at the 19th Annual Labour Law Conference in Johannesburg, 5 to 7 July.

  • Shane Godfrey presented paper, 'Management's ambivalence to Worker Participation Schemes as a way of Improving Enterprise Performance: Case Studies of South Africa's Fish Processing Industry' at the International Sociological Association XVI World Congress of Sociology in Durban, 23 to 29 July.

  • Shane Godfrey presented paper, 'Bargaining Councils and Small Business: Results of recent research and some recommendations' at the National Association of Bargaining Councils Annual General Meeting in Johannesburg on 31 August 2006.

  • Jan Theron presented paper, 'Country study: Co-operatives in South Africa' at an ILO/ICA workshop in Addis Ababa on 15 March 2006.

  • Jan Theron gave a presentation on trade unions and co-operatives at a workshop convened by COSATU's Western Cape Region in Salt River on 23 March 2006.

  • Jan Theron gave a presentation on the informalisation of work at an Alternative Information Development Centre conference in Cape Town on 13 June 2006.

  • Jan Theron gave a presentation on the feasibility of introducing workers' co-operatives in the port of Durban at a national workshop convened by the SA Ports Authority in Durban on 6 October 2006.

  • Jan Theron presented a paper, 'Globalisation, the impact of trade liberalisation, and labour law: The case of South Africa', at a workshop convened by the International Institute for Labour Studies, held at the International Labour Organisation, Geneva, on 6 December 2006.

Chairs or Members of External Boards/Councils/Bodies

Shane Godfrey is on the editorial panel of Law Democracy and Development.

Presentations to External Constituencies on Research

  • Jan Theron and Shane Godfrey presented their research on bargaining councils and small business to a Ministerial Roundtable: The Impact of Labour Laws on Job Creation and Small Business Development in South Africa, convened by the Department of Labour in Johannesburg on 11 May 2006, and attended by organised business and labour as well as community organisations.

  • Shane Godfrey presented paper, 'Bargaining Councils and Small Business: Results of recent research and some recommendations' at the National Association of Bargaining Councils Annual General Meeting in Johannesburg on 31 August 2006.

Production of Reports/Submissions/Monographs/Discussion Papers etc

  • 'Decent Work for Development Project: South Africa – The Expanded Public Works Programme', S Godfrey and J Theron. Report for Solidar and the Labour Research Service.

  • 'Globalisation, the impact of trade liberalisation, and labour law: The case of South Africa', J Theron, S Godfrey and M Visser. Report for the International Institute for Labour Studies.

  • Conditions of Employment and Small Business: Coverage, Compliance and Exemptions, S Godfrey, J Maree and J Theron. DPRU Working Paper No. 06/106, Development Policy Research Unit, University of Cape Town.

Teaching on continuing professional education/development courses

Shane Godfrey lectured on the Scandinavian International Management Institute (SIMI) executive MBA course convened by the Graduate School of Business.

Receipt of Grants

  • University Research Council grant for research project on co-operatives

  • DGRV South Africa (German Co-operative Federation) grant for research project on co-operatives


Interview held with Shane Godfrey and Jan Theron on 22 August 2006

Proposal for Establishment of a Research Grouping at UCT
Unpublished paper on the Labour and Enterprise Project

Mthembu, T (2006): Engaging with Society in Arena, Vol 2(1), 2006, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

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