Human resources practitioners believe that the governments proposed amendments to key labour laws are potential job killers.

The government’s proposed amendments to key labour laws are potential job killers.

This was the blunt view of human resources practitioners representing a variety of industries – from forestry and hospitality to real estate and mining – during the first day of public hearings on the hotly contested Labour Relations Amendment Bill and Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Bill.

The consensus among presenters on Tuesday was that the proposed changes would destroy thousands of jobs, mainly because of the damaging effect they would have on temporary employment services – otherwise known as labour brokers.

Both bills propose radical changes to the temporary employment sector, which, according to some analysts, now accounts for up to 30 percent of all jobs in the formal labour market.

This sector also accounts for the majority of new jobs created in SA over the last few years.

According to Adcorp figures, formal permanent employment has grown just 2 percent since the end of 2008, whereas total employment – including temporary jobs – grew by about 12 percent.

Dianne Robinson, representing the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (Fedhasa), warned MPs that the proposals now under consideration in the National Assembly’s labour committee would effectively “ban” temporary employment services – or at least discourage employers from taking on temporary staff “due to the increased risk”.

The bill would require all temporary employees to enjoy the same benefits as permanent employees. And while all presenters welcomed the government’s intention of better regulating and policing of the temporary employment sector, most argued that the bills went too far and would have the unintended consequence of driving temporary workers out of the job market.

Citing the example of restaurants, which commonly employ casual waiters – often students who benefit from flexible hours and shifts – Robinson said the proposed bills would cause restaurateurs to hire three or four permanent employees instead of 10 casuals.

Robinson urged MPs to revisit the impact assessment study conducted in December 2010 – at the government’s request – by commercial lawyer Paul Benjamin and economist Haroon Bhorat, which warned that the new bills could lead to “substantial” job losses.

This study found that more than 900 000 jobs had emanated from labour brokers since 1995.

“We risk outlawing possibly the major source of job creation over the past 14 years,” Benjamin and Bhorat argued at the time.

This view was echoed by several presenters yesterday, who argued that temporary employment was an international trend that should be used to SA’s advantage.

The public hearings continue on Wednesday.

Political Bureau