Fast little loans
The conclusion, in broad terms, to be drawn from the National Assembly’s labour committee hearings on the amendments to the Labour Relations Act and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act that took place in Cape Town over the past two weeks is that the impasse between the social partners is still there.
The social partners are organised business, organised labour, and the government, the three parties involved in Nedlac – the body that is supposed to find consensus before the passing of labour laws.
The current hearings looked at the proposed amendments to the Labour Relations and Basic Conditions of Employment acts.
There are several changes that everyone does agree on, and some that are clearly still under hot dispute. The hottest of those, it emerged, is still the highly emotive issue of temporary labour services – now commonly known as the issue of labour brokers.
Whereas, in 2009, when there were last portfolio hearings on the issue, the call was for an outright banning of the practice of labour broking, these amendments are designed to regulate the industry.
It appears from the submissions made by organised business that the loss of flexibility, and the increased costs of doing business, that even regulation will bring about, will result in massive job losses and that the objective of creating employment will not be met.
Business presentation after business presentation made the point that, while they agree with many of the proposed changes, there are specific clauses that they see as problematic.
For example, the deeming of a temporary employee to be a permanent one after six months of work at the same employer; the powers the minister of labour will have to decide on sufficient representivity in a workplace, and to make wage determinations in sectors where there are no collective agreement mechanisms; and the exclusion of high wage earners from the dispute resolution processes of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.
The thrust of the argument was that an employer will look for other ways to get the work done, rather than incur the costs and inflexibility of making temporary positions permanents.
These points were made by the SA Retail Association, for example, who pointed out that casual workers have always been a feature in stores, and they are the only way to deal with the seasonal highs and lows that are part of the industry.
Business Unity SA quoted figures of expected job losses should the amendments go through. It believes that up to 215 000 temporary positions will disappear should the changes be made.
The Confederation of Association in the Private Employment Services – the industry body for temporary labour services – brought along an employer in the auto component industry who told of how his company had established its new plant in Bulgaria, because the rigidity of our labour legislation makes it impossible for them to cope in the cut-throat world of just-in-time supply chains in their industry.
The first two days of hearings were a rather sterile affair, with the representatives of big business being allowed to tell their stories, unchallenged. Labour committee chairman Elleck Nchabeleng would not allow the members of the committee to challenge them, only to ask clarifying question.
Only when the six-month limitation on temporary work came up did things warm up and the chairman himself railed against the injustices that the system of labour broking throws up.
On the third day, representative of trade unions make submissions and they told shocking anecdotes of the abuse faced by workers placed by labour brokers.
It’s fair to say the business representatives are all pretty much opposed to any changes which would threaten their ability to maximise productivity and profits through flexible work.
And it was pointed out in a submission from Apso – the recruitment industry association – that the move towards atypical, flexible working arrangements is a global trend, and that it is beneficial to the leading world economies.
There is another side to the story: that along with the lauded flexibility comes lower wages and the erosion of job security. The inability of the Department of Labour to adequately enforce its own regulations certainly adds to the problem.
The portfolio committee process is a necessary procedural step in the legislative process. So is the Nedlac negotiation process. The amendments under discussion were tabled without consensus being reached at Nedlac, however.
Nchabeleng said these hearings are the swansong; the last act that will nudge the legislative process towards closure. “The three-year-old process is on track to be concluded by October. Not everyone was satisfied with outcomes of the Nedlac process and these public hearings provided yet another opportunity for aggrieved parties to raise their concerns. The amendments are not cast in stone. We will look at all submissions and ensure a constitutional alignment. While we will seek to protect all concerned, the goal is also to help improve productivity in the labour market.”