Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant tells reporters yesterday that temporary work can only apply for six months.

The government has dug in its heels on the issue of retaining labour broking while trying to hedge its position by insisting that workers who are employed longer than six months should be deemed permanent.

This is viewed as a sop to Cosatu, which has opposed the labour broking provision, with general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi describing it as a form of human trafficking. The SACP, the third ANC alliance partner, dubbed it a modern form of slavery. Despite the concession, both the alliance partners still want the practice banned.

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant told reporters yesterday that the cabinet had approved for submission to Parliament, bills to amend the Labour Relations Act and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.

Acknowledging that Cosatu still opposed labour broking, she invited the union federation to argue its case in the labour portfolio committee when public hearings were held.

Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said yesterday that the issue was the involvement of a third party in an employment relationship. He said the labour brokers, not the user of the labour, employed the workers.

It was unlike employment agencies where workers registered their availability for employment. “Many of these, like in the UK, are run by the government but the workers are not paid by the agencies. The job centres act as clearing houses,” he explained.

He said the South African examples amounted to trading in workers. Cosatu was not against employment agencies or temporary work, as long as temporary work was in reality genuine seasonal work, such as picking fruit.

Although Oliphant tried to avoid questions about whether the government was merely trying to regulate labour broking, she said the government would be implementing the ANC’s resolutions on broking through the legislation.

The legislation would seek to prevent abusive practices associated with labour broking. One way of doing it would be limiting temporary work “to six months”, Oliphant said.

She noted that the amendments introduced the regulation of fixed-term contracts for those who earned below R173 000 a year.

Only if the employer could argue that the work was of limited duration or could demonstrate “a justifiable reason” for fixing the contract term, would a longer period be considered, – otherwise the worker would be deemed a permanent employee.

“We hope to convince members of Parliament and the general public that the only way to put a stop to abuses and exploitation is a ban… regulation we don’t believe will work,” Craven said.

“We have always made a clear distinction between labour brokers and employment agencies. Labour brokers actually employ workers and then farm them out,” Craven said.

He said that people used labour brokers “to avoid the obligation to comply with regulations that exist”. There was a real danger that such regulations would “like so many (existing) parts of labour legislation not be effectively implemented”, he said.

DA labour spokesman Ian Ollis supported the government position as a ban on labour broking would destroy jobs.

Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Michael Bagraim said the labour broking amendments were a “victory for democracy” and compromise. Business had wanted the permanent employment deeming provision to kick in after a year, and Cosatu wanted no provision, so six months was a compromise. Bagraim, a labour lawyer, said he did not see Cosatu’s distinction between broking and employment agencies.

While there were certain brokers who broke the law, he believed, Cosatu was motivated by laziness as it was difficult to organise workers who were not employed full time. - Donwald Pressly