Following the article in the March 2009 Employment E-Brief, there have been some developments in respect of labour brokers and their continued existence. The Department of Labour has been researching the treatment of employees engaged through labour brokers and has discovered that these employees are paid less than those employees hired directly by the client of the labour broker. The Minister of Labour, Membathisi Mdlalana, is looking to eradicate the exploitation of workers which is associated with labour brokers through using legislature to regulate labour brokers and their operations.
The Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business ("the Chamber") has put together a case for ethical, productive temporary employment services. According to the Chamber, appeals for the banning of labour broking are "out of touch with the realities of the labour market at the present time".
Abuse and exploitation of certain practices is by no means restricted to labour broking. As in any other situation, such abusive and exploitative practices can be minimised through the setting of boundaries and the imposition of sanctions in respect of non-compliance with such boundaries.
The Chamber has identified certain areas which it feels requires attention to regulate labour brokers. Such areas include, inter alia:
1. the requirement that people employed by a labour broker must be properly employed, without the denial of any of their rights as employees - this would include such employees being entitled to become members of a trade union;and
2. requiring labour brokers to register, and having certain requirements for such registration, and thereafter legislating that only registered labour brokers may provide labour to clients.
The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry has taken a similar approach to that of the Chamber and both have submitted documents on this topic to the Labour Affairs Committee.
It appears, from the above, that the emphasis has shifted from banning labour broking to now ensuring that employees hired through labour brokers enjoy the same rights and protections as other workers. This is proposed through a re-evaluation of current labour legislation, particularly in respect of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, 1997, the Employment Equity Act, 1998 and the Labour Relations Act, 1995.
Unfortunately, this issue is not one which can be resolved quickly and quietly, as can be seen from the happenings at the parliamentary labour committee hearings which have been filled with quarrelling between labour brokers and the ANC. The Business Day, in an article titled "Labour Brokers" (27 August 2009), has described the debate as having "long since burst through the boundaries of what might be termed rational discussion, with terms such as 'human trafficking' and 'slave trade' being bandied about and speakers with legitimate arguments against throwing the baby out with the bath water being shouted down as a matter of course".
Written by: Leigh Saunders, Senior Associate at Webber Wentzel