Switzerland helps labour relations in South Africa

Strikes over pay have become commonplace in South Africa Keystone

A Swiss-funded project to promote labour relations in South Africa has proved successful and is likely to be extended to other African countries, the government said on Monday.

This content was published on June 11, 2001 minutes

The project, which ran from 1997 to 2000, was paid for by the Swiss foreign ministry and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs and run by the United Nations International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The leader of the ILO/Swiss Project, Charles Nupen, said Apartheid had left South Africa with a legacy of animosity between workers and unions. One of the aims of the joint three-year project was to create dialogue between the two sides.

"We have assisted in the establishment of an organisation called the Millenium Labour Council," Nupen told swissinfo, "comprising of leaders from the business and trade union side."

According to the government, the ILO/Swiss Project handled 100,000 labour disputes every year, offering mediation as a first step.

Peter Maurer from the Swiss foreign ministry believes the partnership has been so fruitful because Switzerland has a lot of experience to offer.

"It's a project which deals with an issue which is very close to our own Swiss experience," he told swissinfo, "social partnership in this country has been an important element in shaping the political landscape since the 1930s."

"The Swiss approach of breaking down political issues into more technical and procedural issues came into play." he said.

He added that highly contentious issues, such as how a country should direct its economy and how the workplace should be structured, had benefited from Swiss expertise.

Nupen agreed that the joint project had been a success. He told swissinfo that it had been a very productive relationship and was one he would like to see continue.

Despite the success of the Swiss/ILO project which helped usher in a dramatic change in South Africa's workplace, Nupen expressed concern at the reduction in foreign investment in the country since 1995 and the current unemployment rate of 40 per cent.

The ILO/Swiss Project now plans to build upon it's South African experiences by extending its work to other countries in the region, namely Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. Switzerland has set aside SFr3.8 million ($2.1 million) to cover operations between now and 2003.

In addition to resolving workplace conflicts, the project is also aiming at bringing labour laws in the different southern African countries up to the ILO standard.


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