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Deon de Lange
UNDERLYING tensions over proposed labour law reforms bubbled to the surface yesterday when an MP accused labour brokers of being “super-exploiters” of vulnerable workers – and industry representatives hit back with dire warnings about the jobs bloodbath they said would result from the legislative amendments.
The National Assembly’s labour committee is hosting public hearings this week and next into proposed amendments to the Basic Conditions of Employment and Labour Relations acts.
And speaker after speaker warned this week that the planned changes would have devastating consequences for the economy – not least for the vulnerable workers the reforms are intended to protect.
Muttering under his breath and shaking his head in disagreement as one presenter after another rattled off statistics on how many jobs could be lost under the proposed labour regime, committee member Adrian Williams (ANC) lost his patience and lashed out at labour brokers – or temporary employment services – and accused them of exploitative practices.
“I don’t think it is appropriate for you to come to Parliament and make these kinds of threats (that the changes would kill jobs).”
But Williams was immediately reined in by committee chairman Mamagase Nchabeleng (ANC), who said he did not find any of the presentations “threatening”.
The exchange followed representations from speakers of Business Unity SA (Busa), the Retail Association and the Confederation of Associations in the Private Employment Sector (Capes).
They all warned that the proposed amendments would raise the cost of doing business, hit small enterprises hardest and, ultimately, lead to significant job losses.
While they all welcomed efforts to achieve greater protection for part-time and contract workers, industry representatives argued that the proposals would have the opposite effect.
Busa predicts that 215 150 jobs would be lost as a “direct consequence” of the proposal to equalise conditions of service between atypical and permanent, full-time staff.
A regulatory impact assessment, commissioned by the government in 2010 to investigate the possible consequences of implementing the proposed changes, raised similar concerns.
“A provision that these employees should receive equal pay and equal benefits from the start of their employment fails to take into account the difference in skills and experience… There is a significant risk that such a provision will make it more difficult for first-time job seekers to enter the labour market,” the study found.
This view was supported by Jonathan Goldberg, speaking for Capes. He noted that temporary employment services had “introduced 5.4 million people to the world of work since 2000”. Of these, he said, 57 percent had never been employed, 83 percent were young workers and 93 percent were “previously disadvantaged”.
He also said 30 percent of temporary workers gained permanent employment within a year, that the sector contributed R415 million a year to the national skills levy and that the temporary employment sector accounted for 17 400 – or about 30 percent – of all learnerships facilitated through the Setas.
Goldberg said 28 percent of the companies using temporary employment services were black-owned and 39 percent were female-owned.
Cosatu and its affiliated unions are to appear before the committee next week.