Zuma delivers address amid strike threat

2012-02-09 10:23

President Jacob Zuma delivers his state of the nation address this evening with the threat of a strike by two million workers hanging over his head.

Trade union federation Cosatu announced on the eve of Zuma’s yearly address that workers will take to the streets next month over the use of labour brokers by employers.
The failure of Zuma’s administration to bring an end to this method of temporary employment has irked the labour federation.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said more than a third of South African workers were employed by labour brokers in what the federation regards as indecent employment because it lacks benefits that come with permanent employment.

“Labour brokers cannot live side by side with the demand of decent work – it’s impossible to achieve that demand,” he said.
Described by Cosatu as “modern-day slavery” labour brokering has been on the agenda since Zuma became president in 2009, but little progress has been made towards ending the practice.

Negotiations at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) have deadlocked because of disagreements between labour and business, particularly on the definition of temporary employment. Nedlac is looking at draft amendments to the Labour Relations Act, Employment Equity Amendment Bill, the Basic Conditions of Employment and the Public Employment Services Bill, which include a proposal for a ban on labour brokers.
Opposition parties are resisting Cosatu’s call to criminalise labour brokering. They argue that it will negatively affect the creation of jobs and increase unemployment.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) and Congress of the People (Cope), in a joint paper on the matter, said the labour brokering industry generates around R23 billion per annum and places more than 500 000 assignees in jobs on a daily basis. An outright ban on labour brokers will result in “immediate job losses for temporary workers” and “a rise in costs to employers needing to employ larger in-house Human Resources and recruitment staff to fill the gaps left by the exit of temporary employment services”, according to the parties’ joint document.

The DA and Cope propose self-regulation with industry players and government monitoring the process.

It will take a convincing update in Zuma’s address tonight to get Cosatu to stop flexing its muscles on the labour brokers issue and the president will be careful not to be seen to choose between business and Cosatu’s political support.

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