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An analysis of South Africa’s new Labour Policy

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The Cabinet used the festive season to unveil five new bills: four on labour, one on land. All five supposedly aim to help the poor, but their predictable effect will be to worsen unemployment and build dependence on the State. Apart from the controversial Protection of Information Bill, these five bills are the first major legislative intervention by President Jacob Zuma’s administration. They bode ill for South Africa, as the Institute’s in-house legal expert, Dr Anthea Jeffery, explained at a briefing in Johannesburg on 8th February 2011.

Three of the four labour bills make changes to three acts: the Labour Relations Act (LRA), the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), and the Employment Equity (EE) Act. The fourth labour bill is a new measure called the Employment Services Bill. The fifth bill is the Draft Land Tenure Security Bill.
The labour bills seem to have their origins in Cosatu’s determination to end non-unionised, atypical employment. The land bill seems to reflect a belief that small-scale farming offers a solution to rural poverty and that there is a large unmet demand for farm land for this purpose.

Let us begin with Cosatu’s concerns.

Cosatu’s demand for ‘decent’ jobs

The obvious ideal is for every workseeker to find a permanent and well-paid job that offers benefits such as a pension and medical aid. But the ideal is not always attainable in an environment of low growth and poor skills – and the choice which confronts South Africans is very often between temporary, atypical jobs or no jobs at all.

Cosatu’s demand for decent work is also fundamentally self-serving. Cosatu dislikes the growth of atypical or ‘casual’ jobs because this erodes its power. Temporary workers are hard to unionise. In addition, a high proportion of atypical labour weakens the impact of strikes, for non-Cosatu members are likely to ignore strike calls and keep on working.

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