Cabinet decision angers Cosatu
Government and trade union federation Cosatu are headed for a showdown after the cabinet's decision to opt for the regulation of labour brokers instead of banning them.
Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant yesterday told journalists that the cabinet has 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 not more than six months.
This means casual workers hired for longer than six months would be treated as fixed-term contractors 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," the minister said.
But Oliphant's announcement has provoked Cosatu. The trade union body said that regulating labour 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".
Cosatu staged a nationwide protest against labour broking and Gauteng freeway tolling earlier this month, and its general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, likened the former to human trafficking.
Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said the federation was now left with no option but to convince parliament - which would 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.
"And we will argue that 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.
"We believe that 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 aid 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 and have been in operation for less than two years.
The bill also stipulates that additional protection be extended to temporary workers earning less than R172000 a year.
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 Times understands that the government was targeting those earning more than R1-million 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 prison term for engaging in child labour from three to six years.
Currently, Oliphant only has powers to set minimum wages for farm and domestic workers.
Oliphant said the government was moving towards implementing resolutions of the ANC's Polokwane conference of 2007 and what was contained in its election manifesto of 2009, and not those of Cosatu.
"In terms of the manifesto of the ANC, it says we have to regulate, but focusing particularly on the abuses of the labour brokers. So we are responding to that one," she said.
"The issue of banning was the resolution of Cosatu so as the ruling party we are implementing the policies of the ANC."
The bills have been in the making since December 2010 and come after a gruelling negotiation process between government and its social partners at the National Economic Development and Labour Advisory Council.
Oliphant said consensus on the bill was reached at the conclusion of the process in January and the proposed laws would now be submitted to parliament for processing.