Truth is, I had never really met a labour broker, or in fact realised the intricacies of the difference between them and regular employment agencies. All that changed when the DA nominated me to serve on the labour committee. I had to learn very quickly that what I didn’t know about labour in South Africa could well kill you!
So what’s the trouble all about? The newly deployed labour minister, Mildred Olifant, published the draft new labour laws on 17 December in the Government Gazette, her first big step as minister.
Of course, the drafts had already been leaked to the press in the middle of 2010, banning labour broking and “declaring all temporary employment to be permanent”. These were prepared under minister Membathisi Mdladlana and director general Jimmy Manyi’s reign, and rubber-stamped by Olifant before being released for public comment.
The process has been fraught with complications, intrigue and perhaps even irregularity from the start. The public hearings organised for the labour committee in 2010 were highly contentious. As I repeatedly pointed out at the time, they were dominated by Cosatu members reading from pre-prepared faxes sent to them from head office. People who disagreed were intimidated by union members in their fire-engine-red T-shirts.
One poor man from the Unemployed People’s Party had bottles thrown at him and sharp sticks pointed an inch from his eye-ball because he wouldn’t accede to Cosatu’s demands, calling instead for a system of regulating the labour broking industry. In that particular hearing in Germiston, I witnessed people carry long assegai-shaped wooden rods, bottles and one loaded revolver into the meeting. It ended in chaos and we chose to leave when it became clear that the “public” really could make their views heard as long as they agreed with Cosatu.
Jimmy Manyi disclosed to the labour committee he had already signed off the draft bills and handed them to the minister for tabling at cabinet, before the labour committee had even met to draft its own summary report on the public hearings!
But what genuinely worries me most is not the flawed process (Cosatu and the ANC are still not accustomed to genuine listening to the public at large), but the actual content of the drafts. The Regulatory Impact Assessment was called for very early in the process, before the full cabinet or National Economic Development and Labour Council had received the drafts. This in itself is an indication of the confidence insiders had in the laws. The RIA is quite damning (www.ianollis.com). It makes several important points about the new legislation:
The most surprising thing about the RIA, tabled in September, is that the labour department and the new minister seem to have largely ignored its findings.
The 17 December drafts are little changed from the mid-year versions (I think four sentences were altered). It still contains several very contentious provisions, which are sure to be challenged in court:
Now I hear the sound of frantic typing and arguing coming from the department of labour’s head office. Rumour has it that the Basic Conditions of Employment Act is being rewritten to save millions in legal fees when these laws are promulgated. And even if the reason for the re-write is not common sense but the issue of the department’s money, for the sake of this country’s future, I hope the rumour is correct. DM
Ian Illis is DA MP.
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