Published: 08/03/2012

Workers across South Africa responded to COSATU’s call for a national strike on March 7, bringing tens of thousands of people onto the streets in dozens of cities. The action has been described as the largest planned protest in the post-Apartheid era.

The immediate demands of the strike, called to highlight the need for radical policy change to cambat mass poverty and unemployment, were for an end to labour brokering and the scrapping of plans to introduce higher road tolls.

Some one million South African workers are now employed on precarious contracts through labour brokers.

In a statement supporting the strike call, the IUF-affiliated foodworkers union FAWU said “This labour broker practice has seen in some workplaces up to 70% of the workforce earning as little as 30% of what employees on payroll of manufacturers earn – despite the fact that these workers also do permanent work and are reporting for duty daily but earn as little as 30% to their fellow workers on the payroll of manufactures and working without benefits in many cases.”

IUF-affiliate SACCAWU, in their statement supporting the strike, pointed out that “For years now the wholesale, retail and hospitality sectors – the sectors in which SACCAWU organizes –   have been faced with growing casualisation of employment with increasing worsening of employment contracts, wages and benefits. This situation has become substantially worse since the mushrooming of labour broking companies, where more and more workers are less likely to get full time and secure employment. We have pointed out many times that labour brokers are not employers. They do not create jobs but make huge profits by creating a pool of job seekers and then secure a deal to provide their services companies seeking workers but unwilling to take responsibilities that come with employment.”

COSATU and its affiliates are backing legislation to ban this kind of employment; the government has proposed limiting it to 6 months. South African employers are parroting the absurd line promoted by the temporary employment agencies’ lobby group Ciett, who contend that temporary agencies create jobs “which otherwise would not exist.”

Namibia banned labour agencies in 2007, only to see the law struck down on appeal when the agency lobby contested the legislation in the name of defending their “fundamental rights”. The Namibian appeals court judge who struck down the ban on labour agencies cited ILO Convention 181 in support of his decision, declaring that as an ILO member state Namibia was committed to the concept of decent work, and, despite not having ratified it, Convention 181 “allowed” for the operation of temporary agencies, and was therefore the global standard. Ciett says that their support for C181 means that as their business grows, so too does decent work. Now if only all jobs were disposible, and supplied by Ciett members, all workers would luxuriate in decent work.