No ban on brokers

NO TO SLAVERY: Unionists respond when addressed by Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi during the march calling for the banning of labour brokers and stopping the implementation of the e-tolling system. PHOTO: MOHAU MOFOKENG
NO TO SLAVERY: Unionists respond when addressed by Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi during the march calling for the banning of labour brokers and stopping the implementation of the e-tolling system. PHOTO: MOHAU MOFOKENG

THE government and trade union federation Cosatu are heading for a showdown following the Cabinet's decision to opt for the regulation of labour brokers instead of imposing a total ban.

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant yesterday told journalists that the cabinet had approved amendments to the Labour Relations Act and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act that seek to "address what is now commonly referred to as the phenomenon of labour broking" by proposing a regulatory framework for temporary employment.

The Labour Relations Amendment Bill also stipulates that temporary work be limited to a period not exceeding six months.

This means that casual workers hired for longer than six months would be treated as fixed-term contract employees and would be paid the same as their permanent counterparts with full benefits accruing to them.

"We are saying temporary work will be limited to six months. An employee who is employed for longer than six months is deemed to be employed for an indefinite period and must be treated no less favourably than a permanent employee doing the same or similar work," said Oliphant.

But Oliphant's announcement has provoked the ire of trade union federation Cosatu, which said that trying to regulate broking would simply not work.

The labour federation, along with the ANC youth league, has long been calling for a total ban of labour brokers, with both calling them modern-day slave masters.

Earlier this month, Cosatu staged a nationwide protest against labour broking and Gauteng freeway tolling, and general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi likened the former to human trafficking.

Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said the trade union was now left with no option but to convince parliament - which will later this year process the two bills - that the labour minister has got it wrong.

"Labour broking is a serious problem . there are inherent abuses and practices associated with it.

"Trying to regulate labour broking more effectively will simply not work. Labour broking exists, fundamentally, to avoid regulation.

"Many of the labour laws are not adequately enforced and we will have the same problem with trying to enforce these new laws and it would be much more effective to ban them completely," said Craven.

  • Companies would also be required to provide compelling reasons for employing people on fixed-term contracts.

"An employee may be employed on a fixed-term contract for longer than six months only if the work is of limited duration or the employer can demonstrate a justifiable reason for fixing the term of contract," Oliphant said.

However, in an attempt to spare small enterprises the expense of extending fringe benefits such as medical aids and pension contributions for fixed-term workers, several business establishments have been exempted from that provision including businesses that employ less than 10 people and employers with less than 50 workers that have been in operation for less than two years.

The bill also stipulates that additional protection be extended to temporary workers earning less than R172,000 per annum.

  • The bill also bars high-income earners from seeking the intervention of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration in cases of unfair dismissal. The government is believed to be targeting those earning more than R1m a year.
  • The Basic Conditions of Employment Bill also proposes that the labour minister should be given powers to set minimum wages for temporary workers and extend the imprisonment sentence for using child labour from three to six years.

Currently, Oliphant only has powers to set minimum wages for farm and domestic workers.

She said the government was moving to implement the resolutions of the ANC, not those of Cosatu.

X