SA Post Office fails stamp of approval

2009-10-03 13:17

THE SA Post Office has made the shocking admission that more than 30% of its workers are employed on a temporary basis, engaged through labour brokering.

According to the Sapo yearly ­report released after this week’s financial results presentation, the parastatal has fewer than 18?000 permanent employees. The report omits the fact that a large number of temporary workers are procured through labour brokers and employment agencies.

Sapo said more than 8 600 people were contracted through 11 labour brokers who collectively were paid about R350?million in the last financial year.

“An hourly rate is paid to the labour broker. This ranges from R21 to R45,” said Sapo spokesperson Kedibone Molopyane.

She said the post office required flexi-labour for the purposes of addressing fluctuating mail volumes and transactions.

“Our mail volumes and transactions fluctuate from day to day. Any volumes above the normal inflows will be covered by utilising permanent part-time staff and flexi-labour (which in this instance might be ­labour brokering staff),” she said.

The Communications Workers Union (CWU), which has for years battled Sapo over worker casualisation, expressed shock at the actual extent of the use of temps.

CWU general secretary Gallant Roberts said far less than half the many millions paid to the labour merchants ends up with workers.

“It’s exploitation of the worst kind and a blatant scheme for the enrichment of a few.

“It’s scandalous and shameful for a state-owned company to be leading the charge in the destruction of quality jobs,” said Roberts.

The startling disclosure that as many as one in three of Sapo staff comes through agents is seen as giving impetus to calls for the banning of the labour brokering industry.

Union federations Cosatu and Fedusa have called the practice “modern-day slavery” and urged the government to follow the example of neighbouring Namibia and outlaw the business.

Parliament is conducting public hearings in an effort to shape legislation regarding the industry.

Labour lawyers say criminalising the practice of “labour hire” would shut down one of the last ­remaining vestiges of flexibility in the labour market and force the business underground.

Natalie Fraser, the executive for operations at the Association of Personnel Service Organisations, said her organisation supported government regulation of the industry.

“Of course there are unscrupulous operators out there who are a small minority and they have to be found, isolated and brought to book.

“We do not agree with banning. When there are a few rotten potatoes you do not through out the entire bag,” she said.

This week, opposition parties Congress of the People (Cope) and the DA also came out against the outlawing of labour brokering and instead called for its regulation.

In a joint statement the parties said: “Labour brokers are a key component of economic activity and provide a vital service to the workers they place and the companies they staff.”

They added that the concerns ­regarding the exploitation of individuals employed by labour brokers were in some cases real, and needed urgent attention.

“It is likely, however, that an outright ban or excessive regulation will deepen exploitation by driving the industry underground.”

The IFP also entered the debate on Friday and said it supported calls for regulation for the industry and the protection of workers’ rights.

“Of utmost importance is the need to ensure that employees hired through brokers enjoy the same rights and protection as those hired directly by employers. The client company should not be allowed to abdicate their responsibilities ­regarding leave administration and payroll to the recruiter.

“In addition, no worker in any industry should be compelled to go through a labour broker to apply for employment,” said the IFP.

Molopyane said the Sapo was following the broader debate between labour, government and business on labour brokering.

“The outcome of that debate will provide guidance on matters relating to usage of labour brokers or ­employment agencies and the ­direction it takes in respect of ­labour brokers will inform the company’s position going forward,” she said.

The SA Post Office declared a pre-tax profit of R422 million for the year ending March this year.

In its sustainability report, the company pointed to crime being a serious risk factor.

Sapo said there had been an increase in the number of acts of violent crime experienced at Sapo branches.

It also said crimes reported within the organisation had risen 21% to more than 4 600.

The unions have blamed the sharp increase on instances of internal fraud on underpaid contract workers who feel they do not owe loyalty to the company.

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