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Do Unions Matter? Trade Reform and Manufacturing Wages in South Africa


  • Riham Shendy


The effect of nominal tariff cuts on industry wage differentials has been the subject of a number of recent empirical studies. In this paper we investigate the latter relationship with respect to the South African trade reform experience using labor force data for the period from 1995 to 2004. Our study extends on the existing literature in two respects: firstly, we control for the potential effect of labor market institutions, such as collective bargaining power, in assessing the relationship between tariffs and industry wages. Secondly, we account for general equilibrium effects by controlling for the impact of changes in effective tariffs rates. We find that on the one hand, only wages in industries with levels of unionization beyond a certain threshold were adversely affected by tariff cuts. This negative effect is exacerbated by the extent of sectoral union power. The reported large magnitudes of the tariff impact on wages is in line with the considerably high markups documented for South Africa. On the other hand we find some evidence suggesting that wages in industries with union power below the threshold were positively affected by the tariff cuts.

Suggested Citation

  • Riham Shendy, 2007. "Do Unions Matter? Trade Reform and Manufacturing Wages in South Africa," Economics Working Papers ECO2007/50, European University Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:eui:euiwps:eco2007/50

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    More about this item


    Trade Reform; Tariffs; Manufacturing Wages; Trade Unions; South Africa;

    JEL classification:

    • F14 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Empirical Studies of Trade
    • F16 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Trade and Labor Market Interactions
    • O55 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Africa


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