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South Africa: Metalworkers' fight against precarious work goes to the Constitutional Court

27 February, 2018On 22 February, hundreds of members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), with support from the Casual Workers Advice Office, picketed outside the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg to defend the rights of temporary and contract workers against working under harsh precarious conditions of labour brokers. Singing and dancing outside the courts, the workers denounced the labour brokers.

In South Africa, temporary employment services or labour broking companies hire workers which they then place in “client” companies. NUMSA is being challenged by one such company, Assign Services, which wants to continue employing workers on a contract basis for longer than three months.

Despite losing its challenge against IndustriALL Global Union affiliate NUMSA in the Labour Court of Appeal, the company is determined to continue its anti-worker campaign and is hoping that the previous judgements will be overturned. Assign Services is arguing that both the labour broker and the client company where the worker is placed are employers.

According to NUMSA there is only one employer. Argues NUMSA’s lawyers Suzanna Harvey and Tembeka Ncgukaitobi in their papers to the Constitutional Court:

The parallel employer interpretation is not correct because it does not result in the intended protection. The only interpretation which properly protects precarious workers is that the client becomes the sole employer for purposes of the Labour Relations Act.

The Constitutional Court, the highest court in South Africa, reserved judgement on the matter.

In a statement, NUMSA says that:

NUMSA won a decision at the Labour Appeals Court last year which confirmed that temporary and casual workers must become permanent after three months, with the same rights and benefits. Assign Services took the matter to court because they want to be able to continue to abuse the working class with temporary contracts, poor working conditions and low pay. The only way they can do this is if these contracts continue endlessly.

Says Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa:

We are in solidarity with NUMSA in their struggle against precarious working conditions of the temporary and contract workers. By going all the way to the Constitutional Court the labour brokers are determined to continue exploiting workers, but NUMSA is showing them how equally determined workers are in fighting against the labour brokers.