Anti-Competition in Labour Markets

Wage stagnation is when wages stay the same over a long period, usually measured in years. How long have you earned the same wage? How does this happen?

PaySlipBanSA believes labour market competition is necessary to make sure the market serves us – society and employers – equally. If we don’t, worker dignity will be compromised in favour of profit at labour cost and continuing inequality.

The Competition Act

Americans refer to anti-competition laws as anti-trust. In South Africa, we refer to the Competition Act. It’s important to note that the highest law in the land is the Constitution and that it enshrines dignity, equality and fair labour practice.

In ‘Antitrust in the Labor Market: Protectionist, or Pro-Competitive?‘ posted by Marshall Steinbaum, he addresses the impacts of a lack of competition between employers for workers. 

We wonder what he would have to say about the practice of pay slips and cost to company sharing demanded during recruitment?! 

Do something about fairness! Add your voice here.

Steinbaum asks what it would actually look like to bring competition law into the labour market.

The following are fascinating extracts from his research.

Extract 1 Labour Market Collusion Happens

As with any enforcement regime, antitrust often starts with the lowest-hanging fruit: out-and-out written evidence of anti-competitive practices, such as the Justice Department’s 2010 lawsuit against Silicon Valley employers for colluding not to hire one another’s programmers.

This is partly why the recent increase in the use of non-compete clauses has drawn attention in antitrust circles. As a would-be vertical restraint, non-compete clauses aren’t as easy to target under antitrust as horizontal collusion, but they are there, in writing—prohibitions on competition in the labor market, to the benefit of employers. And they should be banned, or at the very least subjected to a high burden of proof requiring a substantive defense on the part of employers who impose them, plus an affirmative finding that they do not act to reduce wages or restrict job offers.

Extract 2 Contracting Terms can institute unfair Wages

Studies show that reclassifications result in immediate wage reductions and no other changes in terms of employment, suggesting that they amount to employer’s exploiting their wage-setting power by changing the legal structure of their business.

Extract 3

It is true that redirecting antitrust enforcement to confront monopsony power would be a substantial departure from the way it has been conducted in recent decades, and as such there are both court decisions and agency policies that go against it. But just because a policy has been in place for a long time does not mean it is a success, and recent evidence implies a significant policy change is necessary and justified—much as an intellectual movement in academia once shifted antitrust policy substantially, it’s time for new evidence to change it once agai.


Steinbaum shows that Competition Law must be tightened to specifically address employer monopsony power. The Competition Commission South Africa have publicly expressed that they don’t know how to connect the Competition Act to workers and their human rights. Their sector analyses reflect this deficit as you seldom find workers, employer power, wages, wage price-fixing, labour market competition and labour market inequality terms included.

Read the full article to understand the importance of competition between employers!



leonie hall

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