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With women being the hardest hit by the cruelty of labour brokerage, Parliament must use the celebration of women’s month to approve a stringent mechanism to tightly regulate this practice, argues Thabo Masombuka.
The unregulated nature of labour brokerage practices has once again been at the centre of debates for job creation and retention in South Africa. This year it even led to a violent confrontation between DA and Cosatu supporters.
Last week, the portfolio committee on labour entertained various industry and stakeholder submissions in respect of the above and other issues related to the labour law amendment legislation. Having campaigned for the outright and total ban of the practice, Cosatu seems to have now agreed with the ANC that the regulation of labour brokers may be the compromise of intervention, especially in view of the rising levels of unemployment.
Correctly so, Cosatu’s view is that every employee in South Africa should not merely be entitled to a decent job but must receive “equal income, for work of equal value”, a universal principle based on the guide to the legal provisions governing equal pay and non-discriminatory job evaluation in Europe.
Somewhere in Roodepoort a company that has listed itself as a “domestic worker agency” takes call-out fees for domestic assistance in the surrounding areas. Fully dressed in blue and white domestic uniforms, the ladies really look like “maids” as described during the apartheid era.
A friend who has previously made use of this service tells me that it is an easy and effective way of managing a day’s long, sometimes pressing and stressful domestic chores. Despite my misgivings, my friend seems to have appreciated the services and, like many of its users, is oblivious of its exploitative and discriminatory aspects.
The modus is seemingly straightforward. The client making use of the service enters into a contract with the company owners, in terms of which the client will pay anything between R90 and R120 per day, depending on the size of the household, and the “maid” is then dispatched to perform all the domestic related responsibilities except cooking.
The amount is paid upfront and the domestic client does not have any relationship with the “maid” whatsoever, except to exercise supervision and control in respect of the cleaning.
A former employee of the company, who was fired for raising her unhappiness about the terms and conditions of the placement, said of the daily fee charged, the “maids” only received a standard R30 irrespective of what the client was charged. There is no pension or medical benefit in this arrangement as the remaining money gets paid to the agency, which in turn only facilitates the placement and runs the administration. This is a typical example of a labour broking service.
There is no doubt that an employment relationship of this nature is flawed with glaring levels of unfairness and injustice. Not only does it undermine the fundamental ethos of the freedom of contracting – which is the cornerstone of the universal principles of an employment relationship – it also does not recognise the principle of equal pay for equal work and non-discriminatory practices, which are an important aspect of our constitutional values.
According to the former employee the verbal, racial abuse and exploitation that they suffer at the hands of some is unbearable. Despite calls for protection from the company, nothing has prevailed. Understandably, such companies have no business or interest in upsetting potential and existing clients.
The fact that such businesses have been in operation for some time not only exposes the popularity of this abusive practice, it also exposes the imminence of skewed poverty and unequal conditions that underpin poor communities, which confines them to these kinds of relationships. Simply put, the often illiterate women who are largely breadwinners in single women headed households take up this work because they have no choice.
It is for this reason that the law must be framed in such a way that not only are these practices tightly regulated and monitored, but it also must be controlled to prevent abuse of the system. This will ensure that bad practices are easily punishable.
Thabo Masombuka is a legal, socio-economic transformation practitioner and chief executive of Florytouch Empowerment Solutions based in Gauteng. www.florytouch.co.za