Introducing a Training Layoff Scheme, regularising Labour Brokers, and enhancing Occupational Safety – the Minister of Labour’s agenda.

Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana is justifiably proud that the Unemployment Insurance Fund is in a position of surplus and able to contribute to securing jobs; in 1998 the fund was in the red. In September, details of the Training Layoff scheme will be announced – utilising the UIF surplus, with contributions from the National Skills Fund, which accrues from 20% of the skills development levies paid by companies with payrolls over R500, 000.00 per annum.
Addressing the 22nd Annual Labour Law Conference, the Minister followed this announcement with a review of current labour relations: Nerine Khan was praised for her good, hardworking leadership of the CCMA; the media came in for a fair share of his criticism – don’t panic – he states, this is strike season . But strike season is no reason to forget health and safety regulations – tipping rubbish out of bins onto streets – especially with bare hands – not only is not acceptable behaviour during the strike, but also constitutes an unsafe act. The Minister’s view is pragmatic, not only does this behaviour demonise the real struggles of the workers, but it also hardens attitudes, making resolution more difficult.
Although there is a right to strike in the Constitution, the Minister notes that the bulk of these disputes have been resolved by conciliation and mediation – a message to us.
Another signal comes from those taking action: miners procured by labour brokers, who held fellow miners underground; bus drivers striking over wage differentials allegedly based on race; others procured by labour brokers, but deprived of basic protections of labour law – all areas of concern.
Labour brokers particularly, came in for attention. The Minister feels that the system is responsible for depriving workers of basic rights under labour law, and made clear his intention to expand formal employment relationships to include labour brokers. His intention is to provide “core rights” and conditions for “decent work” – an ILO concept – so that workers are able to make a living in freedom, equity, security, and human dignity. Recent sector based case studies have highlighted a decent work deficit – although there have been jobs created, there has also been a significant increase in the “decent work” deficit.
The Minister described his trauma when having to attend workplace accidents – more so when he discovers that the employer doesn’t even know the name of the workers who have been injured or died. This is clearly not satisfactory.
We have a definition of “employee”, why not of an “employer”? The Minister made quite clear his impatience with NEDLAC processes. There is a definition of an employer in the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and simply “harmonising” with the Labour Relations Act, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, and the Employment Equity Act will ensure standardised definitions – including labour brokers in the definition of employer.
One further area of concern is the differential in wages – for the same job. This may be dealt with under the Employment Equity Act by outlawing unjustified discrimination on wages. The Minister concludes: It’s time the responsibility came back where it belongs – with the employer.

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