The changing of working practices so that workers are employed on a freelance and occasional basis instead of being offered full-time contracts has become an emotional issue for the country. Many workers feel exploited by labour brokers because they are not granted equal rights and equal pay to those permanently employed by companies.

But on the other hand, labour broking provides temporary labour for companies who need work done, yet cannot afford to put more workers permanently on their payrolls. Government has responded to the challenge by approving changes to South Africa’s Labour Relations Act

These changes aim to protect the labour rights of workers from exploitation without destroying jobs by regulating labour brokers in a stricter manner.

Though this is not the outright ban on labour brokers trade unions wanted, it seems like a sensible compromise between the needs of workers and companies.

What is labour broking?

Let’s start out by considering what labour broking is. It is when an employer hires an employee for temporary work through a middleman called a labour broker. The employee is actually employed by the broker rather than by the company he or she works for.

The problem with this is that many companies try to avoid hiring permanent workers by getting their labour through the broker.

These workers battle without the rights given to permanent employees – for example, medical aid, pension and UIF. What’s more, employees hired through a labour broker often don’t have the protection of a trade union.

They have no job security even when they have worked for a company for months. Trade unions and government want these workers to get the same fair treatment as permanent employees do.

What is the good side of labour broking?

Often, companies have short-term work that needs to be done. They can go to a labour broker when someone is sick, on leave or due to take a break for a few months to have a baby. Perhaps they have a short term contract that needs to be completed – for example, needing some workers for a building project.

In all these cases, labour brokers are not taking away permanent jobs or denying workers their legal rights. They are helping people to get work and companies to get labour.

The better labour brokers actually give their workers all their rights under South African labour law, so they have the same protections as someone working anywhere else. 

How could the suggested laws help temporary employees?

In response to labour broking challenges, government has approved changes to the Labour Relations Act (LRA) and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA). These are the laws that set out your labour rights.

Now, temporary work will be defined as that lasting no more than six months. This means that you cannot be treated as a temporary or casual worker for months and years on end.

Whether you are a temporary worker working for a labour broker or for the company itself, you must get the same treatment and pay as people in similar roles in the company when you have worked in the same job for more than six months. 

What’s more, people earning less than R172 000 a year who are in temporary employment cannot be treated differently from permanent employees.

Closing words

Even though the Cabinet has approved the new laws, some unions and other parties are still fighting for a complete ban on labour brokers.

Whatever the outcome, the laws will protect your rights as a temporary employee sourced through a labour broker better than ever before. It is important to keep watching the latest developments because the situation might change yet again in the months ahead.

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