Labour brokers: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Labour Brokers: The good, the bad and the ugly!Woody Aroun

The Portfolio Committee on Labour hosted a two-day Public Hearing on Labour Brokering in South Africa and dished up some hot debate on whether labour brokering should be banned or not.

Business argued that labour brokers are good; labour (with the exception of Fedusa) argued that labour brokers are bad.

And then there was the ugly – former unionists who have now joined the ranks of the brokering ‘industry’ or ‘temporary employment services’ as it is sometimes referred to.

The Good (Regulate!) The following organizations, amongst others, submitted that labour brokers provide a good service to the economy of the country and should be retained: Business Unity South Africa (Busa); the Federation of Unions in South Africa (Fedusa); the Confederation of Associations in the Private Employment Sector (Capes); the Services Sector Education Training Authority (Sseta) and Business Process enabling South Africa (BPeSA); the Democratic Alliance (DA)

The bad (Ban!)Cosatu with submissions from some of its affiliates (Fawu, Nehawu, NUM, Numsa, Saccawu, Satawu) presented a collective response to parliament detailing the widespread abuses of the labour brokering ‘industry’.

Cosatu’s call for a ban was supported by the National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu), the General Industries Workers Union of South Africa (Giwusa), Metal and Electricity Workers Union of South Africa (Mewusa), the Young Communist League of South Africa and the ANC Youth League.

The ugly (Regulate!)The ugly – this category includes former unionists who have crossed the floor and joined the ranks of labour brokers!

The ANC members of the Portfolio Committee, including ex-Numsa organiser, Eric Nyekemba who is now ANC MP, raised a number of concerns about labour brokering in the country in spite of several attempts by the DA to scale down the level of abuse amongst labour brokers.

Some workers made oral inputs and gave first hand accounts of what it is like to work for labour brokers: exploitation, sexual abuse, long hours of work, humiliation and a total disregard for the constitutional rights that workers have won in our new democracy.

They spoke of how workers were blacklisted if they engaged in union activity which often meant NO further contracts.

They painted a bleak picture of gross exploitation reminiscent of the days of slavery. The employers sat sheepishly and defended their R26bn a year “industry”.

They claimed that not all temporary employment services were bad apples and that many of them subscribed to fair labour practices. Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi presented Cosatu’s submission.

Numsa president, Cedric Gina, spoke of the experiences of our workers in the Engineering Industry and argued that attempts at the level of the Bargaining Council to regulate the services of labour brokers had failed dismally. Gina cited the experiences of our comrades at Concor Engineering that have been employed by labour brokers since 1992. (see an extract below)

Where political parties stand!After the public hearings, the Portfolio Committee on Labour met on September 1 2009 and summarised political parties’ views on labour brokers as below.

BAN labour brokers – ANC, IFPREGULATE and CONTROL better – DAREVIEW existing legislation, consider other countries’ models – CopeIt decided that it will now call a second level of public hearings at the provincial level.

Now that the daggers have been drawn, workers must popularize the call to ban labour brokers in the country.
As Numsa pointed out in its submission: nothing short of a ban on labour brokering will make workers happy … anything less will only serve to exacerbate tensions amongst millions of workers who anticipate that the newly elected ANC-led government will put an end to the misery caused by these unscrupulous brokers.Watch out for public hearings in your province. Tell MPs your experiences. Your future is in your hands!

Dear Comrades In June 2009, Numsa deployed me as its parliamentary officer. My role is to:

* network with the Cosatu Parliamentary Office and affiliates that have established parliamentary offices like Num and Nehawu; * monitor legislation and developments that are likely to impact on civil society in general and on workers in particular; * update Numsa leadership on matters that require trade union intervention; and strengthen our participation at the level of Nedlac. * lobby members of parliament, especially those that we work closely with.

At the moment the Numsa parliamentary office is operating from the union’s regional office in the Western Cape, but the union is hoping to secure funding so that we may locate the parliamentary office closer to parliament.

In each issue of Numsa News I will update you on what’s been happening in parliament. If you have any questions about parliament, send them to me at; fax to 021 945 1808 or post to Woody Aroun, Numsa, 61 Voortrekker Road, Bellville 7535


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