Working conditions of forestry workers in South Africa

April 25, 2012
Wikimedia Image:  Working Conditions Article: forest worker by Malene Thyssen.

Forest worker. Image by Malene Thyssen sourced © Wikimedia Commons.


A study into working conditions of forestry labour commissioned by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) is now underway, and this article serves to communicate its purpose and the methods that will be followed to gather information and insights. 

by Jeannette Clarke, independent consultant

The study provides an opportunity to consolidate labour-related information and trends across the sector, and examine how working conditions and labour practices vary among and between different categories of forestry employers. The overall aim of the study is to identify areas of concern that require attention, as well as highlight best practice and lessons learnt.

A range of methods are being used to gather information for the study, principally the following:

  • A literature review of research studies and other sources of information, including graduate studies (Masters and PhD thesis), consultancy reports, government and industry reports, where these are available.
  • Interviews and discussions with a range of key informants, including: labour unions and labour specialists; contractor association (SAFCA); industry associations and marketing cooperatives (FSA, NCT, NTE. TWK); and key professionals in the forestry service sector.
  • A survey of labour practices among the large growers. The survey will aim to develop an overall profile of key aspects including the ratio of own employees to contract workers, measures to ensure contractor compliance with labour legislation, perceptions about labour challenges and measures to address these. An online survey tool for collecting information from large growers is currently being tested.
  • Investigation of working conditions on the ground. Field visits to forestry operations across the country will provide an opportunity to gather first-hand information about working conditions and labour practices. Interviews and discussions will be held with employers, labour unions, workers and other key informants. These visits took place in February and will continue into March.

At the conclusion of the survey, the Department intends to hold a workshop to share and review findings, and to seek consensus about measures required to improve productivity, job security and wellbeing in the workplace.

The forestry industry will be invited to participate in this workshop alongside representatives of labour.

The study has been done during February and will continue into March. It is expected that a workshop will be held in early April. Thereafter, a full report detailing the findings of the study and the recommendations tabled at the workshop will be submitted to DAFF. I also intend to communicate key findings of the study in future issues of SA Forestry magazine.

Published in February 2012

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