Can labour law succeed in reconciling the rights and interests of labour broker employees and employers in South Africa and Namibia?
Mbwaalala, Ndemufayo Regto
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The ever increasing regional and global trade competition has manifested itself in a growing number of non-standard forms of employment including the increasing use of "temporary employment services" (or “labour brokers” as commonly referred to). Labour brokers enter into employment relationships as third parties with client companies to supply employees through a commercial contract. These labour services usually fall outside the regular twoparty contract of employment defined under existing labour laws and thus the employees are not covered by that law. Labour brokers have been labelled as “the re-emergence of new apartheid strategy” and “modern slavery” by some quarters in labour sectors of Namibia and South Africa. Trade unions, particularly, have led the most vocal resistance against labour brokers in both countries. They argue that, like previous apartheid contract labour systems, labour brokers today erode standards for decent working conditions and weaken union representations in the workplace. Thus unions have repeatedly sent strong calls to lawmakers to amend existing labour laws and „forever put labour broking in its grave where it belong‟1. On the other hand, employers have argued that recent forces of globalisation demand flexible employment strategies and banning labour brokers will make it more difficult for local businesses compete profitably globally via flexible short term employments and can lead to losses of many job opportunities.2 It is against this background that I will argue that current labour laws should be amended to define and regulate labour brokers more closely and compel them to recognise workers rights and conditions as equal as those of standard employees. But first, I will highlight some socio-economic indicators influencing the labour markets in South Africa and Namibia, including the history of worker‟s rights under the contract labour systems in both countries. Second, I will look at some of the expressed exploitive conditions resulting from the use of labour brokers and also look at some reasons why businesses engage labour brokers. Thereafter I will point out some of the reasons why trade unions have called for a total ban on labour brokers. I will then discuss the difficulty of banning labour brokers, including the constitutional challenge in the landmark case of African Personnel Services v Government of the Republic of Namibia3. Lastly i will expand on the ruling by the Namibian Supreme Court of Appeal (NSA) recommending a regulatory approach in line with the International Labour Organisation‟s (ILO) conventions on third-party employments.
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