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South Africa: union in historic court victory against precarious work

26 July, 2018The Constitutional Court, the highest court in South Africa, has ruled that an employer cannot employ a worker for more than three months without a permanent contract.

This is a major victory for workers after years of a bitter union campaign against labour brokering. The victory is the result of a relentless campaign by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), who took the issue to the courts.

After losing the case in the Labour Court of Appeals, labour broking company, Assign Services, took the matter to the Constitutional Court where the court held on 26 July that the worker’s employer is where they perform their duties, and not with the labour broker who placed them. What the court ruling means for temporary workers is that those earning $15,500 per annum or less become permanent after three months as they will be employed by the company where are working.

Labour broking is an outsourcing practice that involves a company hiring labour on behalf of “client” companies. The outsourcing company then makes a profit by paying low wages and charging high fees to the “client” companies. IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, NUMSA, condemned this practice and for many years, with other unions, argued that the client companies should hire the workers directly instead of using this exploitative system where the workers had no benefits including pensions and medical insurance.

Under broking arrangements, the workers also do not have job security as they are on short contracts that can be terminated at any time. The labour brokers have also been refusing to provide any benefits saying they were not the employers, yet they were the ones who provided contracts.

Says Irvin Jim, NUMSA general secretary in a statement:

“Our experience with labour brokers is that they are extremely abusive and expose workers to low wages and terrible working conditions. We hope this decision will be the death knell of the entire industry and we will continue to fight for a total ban of labour brokers.”

Paule-France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa welcomed the court ruling:

“This is a victory for thousands of workers who are employed by labour brokers. We applaud the court decision for providing a legal way to protect workers’ rights to permanent jobs. Labour brokers cannot continue to make profits from the precarious conditions of workers.”