South Africa: Union victory over precarious work

24.07.2017

In a major victory against precarious work, IndustriALL affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), won a case against temporary employment service providers, also known as labour brokers, in the Labour Court of Appeal on 10 July. The breakthrough came after years of continuous campaigns by South African trade unions to stop the intensified exploitation of workers by agencies, such as labour brokers.

NUMSA brought the case to court for its members placed by a labour broker, Assign Services, who were working for Krost Shelving and Racking, a company that manufactures storage products including steel racking, shelving and lockers. Of Krost’s 90 workers, 72 were organised by NUMSA, and these included temporary and permanent workers.

The court ruled that a labour broker contract for temporary employment was only for three months. Beyond that, the worker had to be confirmed as permanent by the employer where they were working.

The court victory was welcomed by over one million workers employed under labour broking conditions in most sectors of the economy, including those organised by NUMSA.

Unions have campaigned relentlessly for an end to this casualisation and outsourcing of labour. They argued that labour brokers did not create jobs but instead devalued them through reduced wages and benefits to increase employers’ profits. There were no benefits such as medical aid or pension.

Employers were also known to use labour brokers as a front to dismiss workers. In such cases workers were transferred to a labour broker who then terminated their contracts.

Brokers also ignored union demands for equal pay for work of equal value, and were union bashers who trounced collective bargaining rights. Some of their tactics included employing scab labour to break strikes, and they also reduced workers ability to gain skills when they moved them from one workplace to another on short contracts.

NUMSA’s long campaign against labour broking focused on the need for equal treatment of workers. The union says:

“The case also confirmed that once permanent, contract workers must be treated the same as permanent employees, and be given the same rights and benefits”.

Fabian Nkomo, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa, says:

“Working under labour broking conditions, which treat workers as disposable commodities, makes life difficult for the worker as they can lose their job at any time. When that happens, they have no benefits at all to fall back on. Therefore, we call for an end to precarious working conditions and support decent work and living wages.”