Membathisi Mdladlane : Labour Minister @ Nedlac,JHB.pix Robert Tshabalala 23/02/07 © FM
Membathisi Mdladlane : Labour Minister @ Nedlac,JHB.pix Robert Tshabalala 23/02/07 © FM

LABOUR Minister Membathisi Mdladlana appears to have dedicated this term of office to the campaign to ban labour brokers.

LABOUR Minister Membathisi Mdladlana appears to have dedicated this term of office to the campaign to ban labour brokers.

Cosatu has proposed at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) that the Department of Labour forms a recruitment wing that will take over the function of labour brokers once they are banned as proposed by Cosatu and Mdladlana.

The big question is whether Mdladlana's department has the capacity to establish a recruitment agency to handle temporary employment in South Africa.

The department is already battling to augment its staff of labour inspectors to ensure the rights of workers are not undermined in various industries across the country.

Mdladlana's spokesperson, Mzobanzi Jikazana, told Sowetan that the minister was very passionate about the abolishment of labour brokers.

"For us the fight for the banning of labour brokers started in 2004.

"So far we have tabled a submission to Nedlac, saying there is no legal basis for the existence of labour brokers in the first place," Jikazana said.

"What is happening here is that there is an exploitation of Section 89 of the Labour Relations Act, which speaks to matters of temporary employment."

He said the minister planned to diversify the fight against labour brokers to include a legal challenge questioning the legal basis for the existence of labour brokers.

Jikazana declined to comment on whether the department had enough capacity to establish the recruitment wing proposed by Cosatu, saying he could not pre-empt the outcome of the Nedlac process.

As a result of a lack of capacity at the department, President Jacob Zuma announced last month that the 23 Sectoral Education and Training Authorities, the National Skills Authority and the National Skills Fund, would all be moved from Mdladlana's department to the newly formed Department of Higher Education and Training headed by Minister Blade Nzimande.

Capacity becomes an important factor this time around as the president plans to stop retrenchment of workers through the National Skills Fund - which enjoys a budget of R5billion - in the immediate term.

Jikazana said a plan to fill a vacuum that would be left by the abolishment of labour brokers would have to come from Nedlac.

Mdladlana said his department had commissioned research which showed that employees engaged through brokers were, among others, paid significantly less than those that were directly hired by employers though they perform the same duties.

The minister has described labour broking as a "form of human trafficking", adding that the practice was selling the labour of workers to the highest bidder.

"Labour brokers are anti-union because they constantly move workers around from one place to another, often with no access to union officials, with no possibility of stop order deduction for union subscriptions."

In relation to his department's planned legal challenge against labour broking, the minister said: "Our labour laws need to be re-evaluated to ascertain the extent to which they provide employees with decent work, in line with the national strategic objectives."

In a recent statement on labour brokers the department said: "The laws that are likely to be amended to regulate labour brokers are the Basic Conditions of Employment Act of 1997, the Employment Equity Act of 1998 and the Labour Relations Act of 1995.

"The matter is currently being tabled at Nedlac for consideration by the social partnership of government, employers and organised labour."

Should he succeed to ban labour brokers, Mdladlana could earn himself new friends in the form of the two million-strong labour federation Cosatu, which took to the streets last week demanding the government ban labour brokers.

Cosatu said: "Labour brokers are the main drivers of the casualisation of labour. "Their practices are the absolute opposite of decent work.

"They have driven down workers' wages and conditions of employment.

"They do not create any jobs but sponge off the labour of others and replace secure jobs with temporary and casual forms of employment."

Last week parliament started the public hearings on the future of labour brokers.

The hearings ended with the Congress of the People and the Democratic Alliance pulling out, citing intimidation of participants by Cosatu members.