The Workers Charter Campaign

The Workers Charter Campaign was co-ordinated by Ebrahim Patel, who explained the purpose of the campaign: 

COSATU is calling for civil society to play a more important role in determining the new Constitution. Constitution-making should not be confined to parliament and political parties.

Ebrahim Patel


The campaign involved identifying workers’ demands through workshops and discussions in affiliate and COSATU structures. Material gathered in the campaign was initially presented at the Workers Charter National Conference on 17 – 18 November 1990. It brought together 350 COSATU delegates from all its affiliates, as well as observers from the ANC, SACP and other organisations to assess the campaign, and take it forward. 

One of the main focus areas was to identify and discuss workers’ demands that would feed into the debate about a new Constitution for South Africa. Besides debating key demands for workers and developing positions on issues such as the lock-out and closed shop agreements, discussions on gender and the Constitution also took place. This included the state’s responsibility for childcare and creche facilities, equal rights in marriage, the legalisation of abortion, non-sexist education and equal pay for equal work. 

At the conference women workers challenged the content of the demands proposed in the draft Workers Charter. They insisted on a commission on women workers’ rights and that the draft be amended. The revised draft of the Workers Charter included women’s call for a family code, advocating gender equality laws within the domestic sphere or private relations. Through the family code, women further demanded that the state should take responsibility for provision of childcare facilities and adequate paternity and maternity leave. Their demands also included protection from – and tougher laws against – rape, battery and abuse of women, the legalisation of abortion on demand and the recognition of gay rights. Women further demanded equal access to labour markets and employment opportunities, equal opportunities to education and training not only in the workplace, but also for schoolgirls. Affirmative action laws and laws against all forms of gender discrimination were also included. Reporting back to the National Women’s Conference in 1992, Malehoko Tshoaedi described the following:

The Workers Charter will be a manifesto setting out all the long and short-term demands of workers … which we want included in the law, and the Constitution of a democratic South Africa. The demands of women workers are an important part of the Workers Charter.

Malehoko Tshoaedi

Professor of Gender and Labour Studies

The Workers Charter was used by COSATU as a base document in negotiating workers’ rights during the transition and the constitutional debates at the World Trade Centre. 

COSATU’s written submission to the Constitutional Assembly in 1995 not only called for a Workers Charter to be appended to the Constitution but also pressed for Parliament to pass a Bill providing for a Workers Charter. An extract from the submission reads: 

We propose the inclusion of a clause providing for the development of a Workers Charter to be appended to the Constitution, setting out the rights of workers in more detail. This clause could read as follows: 

’22(5)(a) Parliament may pass a Bill providing for a Workers Charter, to be attached to the Constitution, which elaborates on the rights contained in this section, and the rights of workers generally.

(b)The Bill referred to in Paragraph (a) must be adopted by a two thirds majority of parliament.’

submission to the Constitutional Assembly


Audio Visual

President Mandela gives his State of the Nation address in Parliament. Mandela ends his address with the words, “Let us all get down to work”.

“We must construct that people-centred society of freedom in such a manner that it guarantees the political and the human rights of all our citizens.”– President Mandela, extract from State of the Nation Address, 24 May 1994

President Nelson Mandela announces his cabinet. It includes members of the African National Congress, National Party and Inkatha Freedom Party.

“There was pride in serving in the first democratic government in South Africa, and then the additional pride of serving under the iconic leadership of Nelson Mandela … [He] represented the hopes of not just our country, but of oppressed, marginalised and the poor in the world.”– Jay Naidoo, then Minister of RDP housing
“We place our vision of a new constitutional order for South Africa on the table not as conquerors, prescribing to the conquered. We speak as fellow citizens to heal the wounds of the past with the intent of constructing a new order based on justice for all.”– President Nelson Mandela, 10 May 1994