Modern slave-masters

2009-10-03 12:41

Why are they still allowed to work?

SOUTH Africa has replaced Brazil as the country with the highest rate of inequality in the world. This does not shock me as we all know that among the evils deterring us from shaking off that dust is the existence of labour brokers.

Why are they still allowed to ransack their clients’ well-deserved earnings? I’ve been told some are getting up to 50% of the person’s wages simply because they have assisted in getting the poor individual work.

The abolishment of labour brokers has to be expedited as it not ­only enriches individuals who actually get paid for doing nothing, but it takes the food out of children’s mouths, ensures that the basics are unaffordable and causes social ­unrest.

We have a lot to do before we can build an equal society. Statutes are in place. What is remaining is total involvement. Involvement in this regard need not translate into sidelining the poor and the unemployed.


Once again the poor have no voice

AS the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) says, labour brokers are modern day slave-masters. As you know, these forces are disproportionately vocal and powerful, and have lobby groups in the media and “expert” circles.

We are told that if we criticise or threaten to regulate or ban them we will discourage the forever-elusive direct foreign investment. It’s so painful.

Like everything in SA, the poor and downtrodden have no voice and the racist, neo-liberal rich and elite have the media on their side.


An antithesis to organised labour

WHILE I was working for a bargaining council in 2004, I witnessed a very painful occurrence where a motor industry company refused to acknowledge a 50-year-old man as their employee.

This happened after a floor manager unfairly dismissed this man after five years of service to this company, working on their shop floor, wearing their overalls with their corporate identity colours and using their implements.

A representative of this company contended in the arbitration that they could not be held liable for dismissing a person they had not employed, and all that they knew about this person was that he was working for a company they “sub-contracted” (a labour broker), which did not fall within the jurisdiction of that bargaining council.

This meant that the poor man had to live with the fact that there was no process of recourse and no legal system that could hold the broker legally liable for his dismissal.

I enquired about this from a provincial leader of Cosatu who expressed his frustration about the manner in which the then government avoided this issue. He described how the labour brokers were a deliberate antithesis to the gains achieved by organised labour. To companies, brokers meant less industrial action, less labour cost, less costs for judicial processes, disposable labour, no payments of benefits to labour and lack of adherence to the Labour Relations Act.

Don’t just regulate labour brokering. Burn the whole industry. Thandile

Is Cosatu powerless?

THE question is what is Cosatu doing about the labour-brokering fiasco. My take is that as long as Vavi wants to maintain the “alliance” at all costs, Cosatu will be powerless to deal with these issues.


The state let these labour pimps off

THABO, Cosatu got frustrated by its partner in the government because this was one of their campaigns?– to get rid of these parasites (labour brokers).

When I read that the government was going to let these labour pimps off the hook I felt that the workers were let down again by the people who ought to protect them.Musa

We need laws to govern brokers

THE issue of labour brokers is very painful. I worked under a broker for about two years. Although I was happy that I could go to work every day, I was crying every month-end.

What made matters worse was when a saw the invoice my agent was issuing to his client for my service. I’m telling you I nearly broke down. But I stayed there since there was nowhere to go.

Under this arrangement employees are firstly exploited by the employer who negotiates a reasonable hourly rate with the broker. The broker is more likely to negotiate for a minimum rate since he is competing with other brokers for the same business. The working conditions are normally not conducive as the employer treats the employees as contractors without rights as enshrined in the Labour Relation Act.

Secondly, the employee will be exploited by the broker in the sharing of what the employer paid. Double exploitation!

I was hurt to learn recently that there are some unionists within Cosatu who own employment agencies (labour brokers).

Given the current flexibility of the labour market coupled with the advent of small and medium enterprises I’m convinced labour brokers are still relevant to our economy notwithstanding the fact that I was once their victim.

Rather than doing away with the brokers, perhaps the government needs to craft some measures to ­ensure that the brokers’ mode of ­doing business is aligned with the government’s economic development initiatives and is indeed adding value to the standard of living of employees.

Though I fully agree that the greed of brokers contributes immensely to disparity in terms of income due to their exploitative and abusive nature, labour and government should intervene to close this loophole through legislation.

Mike Duba

It borders on human trafficking

MIKE Duba,the decision on what to do with labour brokers is entirely based on developing a common understanding on what is really the nature of this institution.

Labour brokering is a modern-day slavery practice or, as some have suggested, a human trafficking practice.

The supporters of brokers argue that it provides jobs to millions of people. This is nonsense because brokers don’t employ people except for a few administrators. It is the companies that employ people, albeit using a slavery arrangement.

You argue that brokers are relevant but you have not told us how. The offering of short term or skilled personnel can be done by recruitment agencies. Skilled recruiters are not an issue in this country. Perhaps skills are.

In a country with a barbaric history like ours, morally, socially and politically we cannot justify exploitation of our people (mainly black) by Pick n Pay, Checkers, restaurants and other companies.

How are they relevant to the government strategy? This argument of jobs is unsubstantiated even at a strategic level.

Some countries in east Asia tried this – offering no tax and cheap labour to investors – but we have proof that neither the host countries benefited nor the people on the ground?– only exploitation persisted.

By its nature, brokering is elusive and difficult to accommodate within civilised labour laws.

Banning is the only solution I can think of.


Labour must stand its ground

THE interests of labour are at loggerheads with those of foreign or local investment. If government adheres to the fallacy of economic growth as the only economic factor capable of raising the standard of living of working people, then labour must stand its ground on behalf of the working class and oppose the shortsighted and exploitative policies that seek to neutralise the power of the working class. There is no tangible reason why the unions go along with such policies.

Government capitulation to the dictates of an ideology that is antithetical to the wellbeing of workers and all oppressed people negates the purpose of our struggle to be free?– not just to vote but to determine our destiny as agents and instruments of good against evil, fairness against exploitation and justice against injustice.

There is no excuse for the existence of labour brokers. They are a hindrance to the development of policies that should be geared at improving the destitute and shameful existence of many South Africans who deserve to be treated as human beings for a change.


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