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South Africa – Union bitterly disappointed about change to temporary staffing law

21 June 2013

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has expressed its “bitter disappointment” over a parliamentary vote this week which will require employers to treat temporary, fixed-contract and part-time workers on an equal basis after three months.

The union has called for a complete ban on labour broking – the use of temporary employment services – and accused parliament of giving labour brokers a reprieve, “so that they will have the right to continue to employ and exploit workers for up to three months at a time.”

But supporters of temporary labour argue that the industry employs around one million workers and helps to spur job and economic growth, therefore forming an integral part of the labour market.

Cosatu’s opposition to labour broking dates back to 1999, and the union vowed to continue fighting for a total ban. “Our opposition to labour brokering is that it treats workers as commodities, who can be traded to generate a profit.” The organisation goes as far as likening the use of temporary labour to “human trafficking” and “modern slavery”.

Instead of a ban, advocates of temporary staffing have called for greater regulation. But Cosatu  argued that increased regulation of the staffing industry will not stop all abuses. “The government wants us to agree to allowing the triangular relationship – between client company, labour broker and worker – to exist for three months, after which the worker must be hired directly by the firm he /she is actually working for.”

It said that this can still lead to exploitation with firms being able to rotate workers for three months before replacing them with others. The union also argues that client companies have no responsibility to ensure workers receive the wages and benefits they are entitled to. And because they are not the direct employers, they cannot be charged with unfair dismissal. 

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