SA union wins victory against labour brokering

NUMSA members demonstrate outside the Constitutional Court earlier this year
NUMSA members demonstrate outside the Constitutional Court earlier this year

THE Constitutional Court, the highest court in South Africa, has ruled that an employer cannot employ a worker for more than three months without a permanent contract.

This is a major victory for workers after years of a bitter union campaign against labour brokering. The victory is the result of a relentless campaign by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), who took the issue to the courts.

After losing the case in the Labour Court of Appeals, labour broking company, Assign Services, took the matter to the Constitutional Court where the court held on 26 July that the worker’s employer is where they perform their duties, and not with the labour broker who placed them. What the court ruling means for temporary workers is that those earning $15,500 per annum or less become permanent after three months as they will be employed by the company where are working.

Labour broking is an outsourcing practice that involves a company hiring labour on behalf of ‘client’ companies. The outsourcing company then makes a profit by paying low wages and charging high fees to the ‘client’ companies. IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, NUMSA, condemned this practice and for many years, with other unions, argued that the client companies should hire the workers directly instead of using this exploitative system where the workers had no benefits including pensions and medical insurance.

Under broking arrangements, the workers also do not have job security as they are on short contracts that can be terminated at any time. The labour brokers have also been refusing to provide any benefits saying they were not the employers, yet they were the ones who provided contracts.

Says Irvin Jim, NUMSA general secretary in a statement: ‘Our experience with labour brokers is that they are extremely abusive and expose workers to low wages and terrible working conditions.

We hope this decision will be the death knell of the entire industry and we will continue to fight for a total ban of labour brokers.’

Paule-France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa welcomed the court ruling: ‘This is a victory for thousands of workers who are employed by labour brokers. We applaud the court decision for providing a legal way to protect workers’ rights to permanent jobs. Labour brokers cannot continue to make profits from the precarious conditions of workers.’

• Eskom met with Numsa, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and Solidarity for another round of wage talks last Friday. During the previous round of negotiations, the embattled parastatal presented unions with two options. Sign a three-year agreement of a 7% increase for each year and an increase in housing allowance according to the CPI. The alternative is a 7.5% increment for the first year and 7% for the next two years with no housing allowance.

The issue of bonuses has also been a bone of contention. Eskom insists that its precarious financial position means it won’t be able to pay bonuses this year, while Numsa and NUM insist that it needs to be part of the deal as the power utility’s financial woes are not the fault of workers.

Numsa general-secretary Irvin Jim says the unions made another wage proposal in an attempt to resolve the two-month long impasse.

‘It is not our intention to give you (the media) the details of the negotiations because we think we are in a very sensitive stage. We have given Eskom a permutation when it comes to wages of what we think we can be able to go and persuade our members and recommend a settlement.

‘The second issue, which is a big issue for us, is the question of bonus. We made things very clear to them that it’s high-time that both the board of Eskom and management of Eskom must basically come to the party in terms of resolving this issue.’

Unions have given Eskom until August 3 to consider the new wage proposal. Jim warned that workers are growing increasingly frustrated at the slow pace of negotiations and a settlement needs to be reached as soon as possible.

‘Our members are very restless on the ground. We have warned Eskom that if they are not going to act very swiftly, very quick, this can get out of hand because all our members at power stations, at Eskom Megawatt Park, they are frustrated and angry. They want this to be wrapped up.

Beyond the 3rd (of August) we will not be able to take responsibility for anything that will go wrong.’

• The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) has offered to intervene in attempts to end the dispute in the footwear sector strike, which enters its 16th day today. This is according to a joint statement from the National Union of Leather and Allied Workers Union (Nulaw) and Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (Sactwu). Wage negotiations between the unions and the Southern African Footwear and Leather Industry Association (Saflia) had deadlocked, resulting in workers striking after their 9% wage increase demand had been rejected by the employers, who had offered 6.25%.

Nulaw general secretary Ashley Benjamin and Sactwu general secretary Andre’ Kriel said their unions had received formal communication from the CCMA regarding its offer to intervene in terms of Section 150 of the Labour Relations Act. The unions said they have always insisted that a strike was not their first choice and that all they wanted was for their members to be granted a ‘decent wage increase in pursuit of their living wage demands’.

‘We are not oblivious to the challenges and pressures which the domestic footwear industry is experiencing. However, it is our considered opinion that our hard-working members do not deserve the 6.25% final offer increase which has been tabled, and which they have increased slightly to 7% on Tuesday this week.

‘Our members have firmly rejected the employers’ revised 7% wage increase,” said the unions.

‘We welcome the offer from the CCMA and commit to act constructively in this envisaged CCMA-led conciliation process should Saflia agree to take part. We now await a formal response from the employers (who are represented by Saflia), to the CCMA’s assistance offer.

‘In the interim, our strike remains strong and united and we vow to continue it until such time as footwear employers offer our members a decent wage increase for 2018.’ Saflia chairperson Noel Whitehead said: ‘We gladly accepted their offer. Unfortunately tomorrow (Friday) will not be possible because our lawyer and other representatives… are otherwise occupied. We suggested Monday morning as an alternative.’

• Transport workers union, the United National Transport Union (Untu), members employed by Gautrain were set to go on strike from midnight on Sunday over wage disputes. Talks between the union and Bombela, which is the operator, deadlocked on Saturday after the parties failed to reach an agreement.

Bombela is offering workers an 8% salary increase across the board, but the union is asking for 10%. They are also demanding housing allowance of R1,600, transport allowance and an increase in night shift allowance.

Untu general secretary Steve Harris said: ‘The strike continues at 12.01am. Therefore, we’re of the opinion that no trains will be running. Our advice to commuters is to look for alternative transport.’