WORKERS’ DAY- TIME TO REFLECT

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The effectiveness of government legislation meant to protect vulnerable workers in South Africa has come into question, as the experiences of many at the coalface contradict the laws.

Vulnerable workers in sectors including farming, domestic work, hospitality and casual labourers said there was very little to celebrate on this May Day because government intervention had done little to change their employers’ attitudes.

This, they explained was because once legislation was enacted, there was rarely any effort to enforce the laws which are ideal on paper, but mean very little for them because of low levels of compliance.

Domestic work is one of the few sectors where minimum wages are set by the labour department and amended regularly in line with the changes in the cost of living and inflation.

However, Dimpho Lebea, who has been cleaning in various homes for over seven years, said she had never been paid in accordance with such minimum wages, and had given up all hope of ever being paid what is due to her according to the law.

“If your boss gives you R100 for working all day, you just take it and keep quiet because if you don’t, someone else will get your job.

“We don’t even know how or where we are supposed to report if our employers don’t pay us enough. We just hear about sectoral determinations, but we know it’s not for us,” she explained.

Her situation is not unique.

Domestic workers have little to no bargaining power with their employers.

Many state that the knowledge that there are many desperate potential workers like them make them dispensable and they wouldn’t want to stir up a hornet’s nest.

Labour federation, Cosatu explained that it did not view sectoral determinations, especially in unregulated sectors such as domestic work, as long term answers.

Cosatu spokesman, Sizwe Pamla said there was a need to build a culture of compliance as inspections by the Labour Department had proven to be an “inappropriate primary means of promoting compliance”.

When President Jacob Zuma signed the amendments to the Labour Relations Act (LRA) into law two years ago, the legislation was hailed as a delivery on the government’s promise to protect vulnerable groups.

These include the right to fair labour practice, access to collective bargaining and the right to equality in the workplace.

Barely a year since the implementation of some of these laws, including the groundbreaking amendment to section 198 of the LRA, offering a reprieve to those employed through labour brokers, some workers say they are now worse off than before.

According to the amendment, workers who meet certain criteria must be employed permanently after three months in the employ of labour brokers.

Workers said they celebrated this milestone, certain they would earn the same wages and be eligible for the same benefits afforded their colleagues employed permanently by the clients of the labour brokers.

“It was nothing but a pipe dream,” said a disillusioned young man whose labour is still being sold to a logistics company, through brokers.

“They did not give us permanent jobs and in July 2015 we started engaging the CCMA on the issue of permanent employment according to the new section of the LRA. But those who take up the issues get dismissed or victimised,” he said.

When the amendment was implemented, the labour department’s director of collective bargaining, Ian Macon, said it would “deal decisively with abuses subjected to temporary employees”.

The spokesman for the advocacy group, Casual Workers Advice Office’s Ighsaan Schroeder said they were handling 185 cases at the CCMA and different bargaining councils involving 8 000 workers who were pushing for the realisation of the law.

He explained that the workers found themselves at a greater disadvantage as they now had to spend countless hours dealing with cases at the CCMA.

source; sunday tribune

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