Monday, November 10, 2008

The Custom of the Builders Holiday

The custom of the annual Builders Holiday, whether by statute or voluntary, is well entrenched in South Africa. The shut-down period normally commences on the Friday following 16 December and would continue to the commencement of the first full working week after New Year’s day (1 January).

Historically, the Building Industry in South Africa has made considerable use of migrant labour and to the lesser extent itinerant labour. The Western Cape for example during the long ‘apartheid’ years was a so-called coloured preferential area.

Influx control was also stringently applied which meant that it was logical for the Building Industry to close down during the Christmas/New Year period to allow these employees to return to the then homelands or reserves while at the same time taking their paid leave entitlement.

The writers first official contact with the Building Industry occurred during 1963/4 in Durban when he attended the Annual General Meeting held during March 1964 of the then Durban Master Builders Association which was held in the St. Johns Ambulance Hall. The legendary Mark Lipshitz, who was the only person ever to be President of both the Builders and Civils Federation, was in the chair.

The meeting which was well attended also discussed whether the annual shut-down period should be legislated for or not. The debate got heated at times and I recall the late Walter Ridl who was a proponent of a legislated shut-down period vehemently stating, “the men need a break to go and plant their seeds”! This solicited some wag to respond to great acclaim “Walter should know all about that!”. It was well known in the industry that Walter and his wife Flo had 11 children.

Currently there is no longer a legislated builders holiday in Kwa Zulu Natal. Old habits do not die and unofficially the custom still applies. Whether legislated or voluntary it should be noted that the Industry has always remained flexible to provide essential and emergency services during the so-called shut-down period.

Pieter Rautenbach
Projects Facilitator

(Editors Note: The dates for the Building Holidays this year are from Friday the 12th December 2008, to Monday the 12th January 2009)


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