Rumours of “work opportunities” are greatly exaggerated

By sylviahammond, 25 March, 2009

Are you looking for a work opportunity? Find a labour broker. At least this is according to the argument put forward by the Democratic Alliance’s Anchen Dreyer.

Membathisi Mdladlana - the Minister of Labour – has responded that the legislation will be amended, and that labour brokers who: “act between the client company and the workers to lower labour costs, to reduce direct exposure to labour legislation” will be prohibited from running their businesses. But he didn’t respond directly to the question raised by Anchen Dreyer of who will fulfil the role that labour brokers play, providing work opportunities to thousands of work seekers? (I-Net Bridge March 12 2009 17:08)

The question then is: if labour brokers are providing work opportunities – apparently a valuable service – why do we need to amend the legislation?

First step – look at the legislation. You won’t find the words “labour broker” in our employment legislation. (You will find many references in Income Tax law.) The Basic Conditions of Employment Act (section 82) only defines Temporary employment services. (TES) This section covers persons: “…whose services have been procured for, or provided to, a client…”

From this definition, it appears to me that the TES doesn’t actually have work or a work opportunity for the person – the work opportunity exists in the business of “the client”. Yes, the TES is providing the service of finding the person – rather than the in-house HR department, or a recruitment company.

Surely, the labour broker cannot provide an opportunity that does not already exist – all they are doing is finding the person. No, not so simple. The person is an employee of the TES – why, you ask? Why does the TES not simply take a commission – like the recruitment agency they in fact are? Once again: no, not so simple.

If you take the opportunities afforded by the skills development legislation you could benefit from discretionary funding to train unemployed workers (18(2) Learners), receive your grant, train the previously unemployed persons and place them with an employer to gain their work experience. Surely, this is a good thing? Once again: no, not so simple.

If the client was filling a vacancy that existed within their staff complement, the new employee would be entitled to the prevailing terms and conditions, and benefits, and be employed permanently. As the person who has now been found by the “labour broker” will remain the employee of the TES, they are entitled to the terms and conditions of the TES. This is not all - far more importantly – the employee of the TES is terminated when the client contract ends, or when the client advises that they no longer want the person to work for them.

The heart of the matter is - it is the difference in the status of the persons employed by labour brokers that is the issue – their terms and conditions of employment, and how secure they are in their positions, that is: how quickly they can be terminated.

The best illustration of this can be found in a report commissioned by the Department of Labour - the Sociology of Work unit at Wits University report entitled: “Making Visible the invisible: confronting south Africa’s decent work deficit”. For those wanting to really understand what is behind this argument, the report is available on:…download the document here

The question then is: Are labour brokers really creating “work opportunities” if the work they “create” is insecure, and with no benefits?

An additional question is: if the workers of today have no retirement funding, who will provide for them when they need to retire? Answer: The taxpayers of tomorrow – our children and grandchildren. Is this another example of the American solution?



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