Alan Hammond
Alan Hammond

Lots of talk about labour brokers, not much listening

Parliament has been holding public hearings on proposals to curtail, and possibly ban, the operations of labour brokers. A marathon two-day session saw lots of talking between the parties but not much evidence that there was much listening going on.

The minister of labour has been unhappy with the rise in the use of labour brokers for the last few years.

The pledge to ban labour broking was included in the ANC’s manifesto for the last election, which gave Mdladlana the platform he needed to push through the necessary changes in labour laws.

Before a change in the law can be affected, the correct procedure is for the National Assembly’s portfolio committee on labour to hold public hearings on the matter.

For two days this week, the apartheid-era parliamentary chamber was the home to lots and lots of talking about labour brokers, or temporary employment services, as they prefer to be known.

The tone was set early on the first day after the first presentation gave some insight into the activities of highly skilled engineers and project mangers and their interactions with labour brokers. For the skilled workers the labour broker acts more like a Hollywood agent. The broker knows the going rate for scarce, skilled workers and ensures that their client gets the best terms and conditions.

After the presentation Alina Rantsolase MP, current ANC caucus chair and former unionist, lead the charge. She outlined a number of exploitative practices that can happen in the workplace, from immediate dismissal without severance pay, to abuse of health and safety procedures. Why hadn’t his presentation dealt with those issues she asked?

The presenter, who works with highly skilled employees, could bring no relevant examples to the hearings. He was left to speculate about the practices of domestic worker agencies, which he had some scant knowledge of in his private life.

It didn’t give the impression that committee members were interested in learning about the topic. They had already formed their views on the practice and were intent on telling the presenters what the facts were rather than trying to learn from them.

It is a form of 21st century slavery and cannot be reformed — it must be destroyed completely. That statement was made on the morning of the first day and there was no evidence that anyone’s opinion was changed by the end of the hearings.

The only humour in the two days occurred when Kevin Cowley from labour broker federation Capes said that brokers were not about exploiting people but were actually in the business of skills. For some reason laughter broke out across the chamber!

Cowley continued that calls for the banning of labour broking were completely out of touch with reality! The ANC members of the committee (who hold the majority) didn’t appear to hear anything from the labour brokers that would cause them to change their commitment to banning labour broking. It looks like Cowley’s reality could be changing soon!