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Making visible the invisible: Confronting South Africa's decent work deficit

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Corporate author/s:

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC); Sociology of Work Unit

Person/s author/s:

Tsoeu, Mariane; Joynt, Catherine; Benya, Asanda; Dilata, Xoliswa; Webster, Edward; Ngoepe, Kholofelo


research report



This report argues that national direct surveys of households, such as the biannual Labour Force Surveys issued by Statistics South Africa, are useful in measuring the numbers of those in employment, but that they are unable to measure the size and nature of informal employment. Such a task requires both a conceptual and methodological shift: it is necessary to reconceptualise the informal economy from its origins three decades ago as a description of the urban poor in developing countries to a recognition that informality does not only exist in small, unregistered enterprises but is increasingly found inside formal enterprises through the rapid growth of casual and sub-contracted work; it is necessary to develop a qualitative methodology that draws on ethnographic methods of research. This requires that the researcher enter the world of work and over a period of time - through observation, in-depth interviews, photographs and surveys - provide a more accurate account of the heterogeneous nature of informal work.

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