The bosses are resisting implementing section 198 rights as conferred by the new amendments to the Labour Relations Act (LRA) in 2014. The amendments make provision for labour broker, contract and part-time workers to be registered as permanent workers of the client company after a period of three months. Some of bosses responded by complying with the amendments but in the majority of instances, employers have resisted and frustrated efforts by workers to access these rights.
What is clear is that the bosses were caught off-guard when workers began to demand access to these new rights. There was no common coordinated response from employers. Some responded by dismissing key worker leaders and intimidation, and some threatened to move workers to different sites. But now indications are that the bosses have begun to talk to each other and are beginning to develop some kind of a collective response to section 198 disputes.
Shifts in the responses of the bosses
Workers are now focusing on substantive issues that arise from section 198 rights. They have intensified the campaign by demanding the same rate of pay for the same or similar work, access to benefits and the same working conditions enjoyed by directly employed permanent workers of the client company. In response, companies are engaging the services of big legal firms to handle section 198 related issues. Company lawyers are now demanding proof that the main applicant in a case has been mandated by workers to sign the CCMA/Bargaining Council referral.
For instance, in the case of Crab Tree/Paradise Moulding, the company’s legal counsel demanded proof of authorisation, which included minutes of the meeting where authorisation was given, attendance registers, written apologies submitted (if any), date and time, venue and the actual statement of authorisation. To make matters worse, some commissioners have acceded to these requests and went as far as asking for validation of the list of workers who are part of the case.
Challenges posed by the new shift
This new trend by company lawyers is a matter of concern to workers and poses new challenges to workers. As most labour broker workers are non-unionised this poses a huge challenge as the LRA only recognises registered trade unions to act on behalf of their members. Unregistered worker formations at the workplaces should be able to respond effectively when confronted by these challenges. The organising and legal component of the Simunye Workers Forum needs to develop a comprehensive strategic response to this new challenge.