Members of parliament and a range of stakeholders are taking part in public hearings on the proposed amendments to labour laws to regulate the practice of labour broking.
The first presentation was from the consulting engineers and project management sector, delivered by Doug Armstrong.
According to Armstrong, projects such as the Gautrain and the stadiums built for the 2010 Fifa World Cup would not be possible without the flexibility that the use of labour broking allows.
Armstrong stressed the benefits of costing for projects in advance, including the labour element. He also explained that when a major project is completed, it is handed over to the owner which is a different company. It would therefore not be possible to maintain their employment with the same employer.
Armstrong also expressed the view that there is a misconception about the professionalism of labour brokers, with his experience being that correct HR policies are in place and followed.
Speaking for a particular sector of the economy, Amstrong highlighted the factors peculiar to these types of workers. Engineers, lead engineers, project managers etc are employed via labour brokers. Armstrong believes that what is important to them is the project they are doing rather than the company they work for.”It is the project that fires them up!" Armstrong explains that for example many skillsed professionals did whatever they could to be involved with the Gautrain as this was seen as an international prestige project.
The suggestion was made that the Department of Labour be given more resources to be able to audit companies that may not be operating correctly. Additional control is required and it would be better to add these controls rather than change the law.
Another factor highlighted was that labour brokers act as agents for the employees – they support them with tax advice, career assistance etc.
Namibia has an economy that would never match South Africa’s and that country would never be able to manage big projects like the Gautrain or to manage the world cup.
Ian Ollis from the DA expressed his party’s view that there should not be over regulation of the practice. However he also expressed his party’s view that workers should not be exploited and identified that there could be problems with the disciplinary process where a labour broker is involved.
The question for the ANC MPs present was a simple one, ‘Why can the company not employ the worker directly?
Why is it necessary that there is that middleman?'
The answer was a straightforward one. Very skilled people find it very hard to operate as independent contractor. We don’t want to see people circumvent the tax system. Because of this restriction the skilled worker would rather use a labour broker to act as their employer.