ANC MPs fail own labour bill

The DA hopes to see changes made to the Labour Relations Amendment Bill after MPs’ poor attendance in parliament clouded the vote to pass the act. Denene Erasmus reports.

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The DA will use the postponement of the vote on the controversial Labour Relations Amendment Bill, until next term, to push for certain key amendments to be made to the bill. This was after the bill was not passed in parliament because too few members of parliament (MPs) attended the sitting to constitute a quorum to pass the vote.The bill will, among other things, limit the time that a worker can be temporarily employed through a labour broker to three months.

Changing the Bill

Watty Watson, DA chief whip, said some of the amendments which the DA will seek to apply include amendments to Section 32, which allows for the extension of bargaining council agreements to parties that were not part of the process, and a repeal of Section 18, which allows majority unions and employers to agree on thresholds of representativeness for unions to gain organisational rights in a specific workplace or sector.

The DA will also endeavour to make amendments to Section 198A to extend the term limit for the use of labour brokers, to provide temporary employment services, beyond the three months contained in the current version. During the Nedlac negotiation process it was decided that temporary workers could be employed – either directly or through labour brokers, for six months.

But when the bill was presented in parliament this had been changed to three months, said Elize van der Westhuizen of Agri SA’s labour committee. The trade union federation Cosatu and the ANC lashed out at DA parliamentary members for jeopardising the vote, but the DA said ANC MPs were to blame because many of them had failed to attend.

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Poor attendance
Watson said in a statement that during the recent debate on the bill in parliament, the DA had managed to prevent it from being passed by walking out and calling attention to the ANC’s poor attendance, thereby rendering the sitting inquorate.
“The DA took such steps to stop this bill because it will kill jobs and hurt the poor and unemployed. We could not allow this to happen without a fight,” he said.

“While we are pleased that it was prevented from being passed, it is of great concern that the ANC could not muster the necessary 201 of its 264 members to ensure that their own bill was passed,” Watson said. But Cosatu and the ANC hit back, criticising the “DA’s irresponsible decision to walk out of the process with a deliberate intention to frustrate the passing of the bill”.

ANC chief whip Stone Sizane issued a statement confirming that the DA MPs – led out by their parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko – had assembled in the parliamentary bar where they observed the proceedings through the television monitors. Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven called the DA’s actions a “declaration of war on the trade union movement and the working class”. But Watson rejected this, saying the DA would “not help the ANC and Cosatu pass job-killing legislation meant to be nothing more than an appeasement of certain factions in the Tripartite Alliance”.

Sizane also expressed his disapproval of the poor attendance of members of parliament from all political parties.
“According to parliamentary attendance records, the ANC had 171 members present in the house. We will look at the reasons behind our MPs’ absence in order to ensure that any disciplinary action is taken on the basis of facts,” he said.

Bill will affect farmers
Agri SA participated in the Nedlac process to negotiate the terms of the bill and Van der Westhuizen said that while they had originally argued for employers to be able to appoint workers on a temporary basis for 12 months, they later reached a compromise on six months. “We are not sure how the bill ended up stipulating that workers could only be in temporary employ for three months. This will make life very difficult for farmers who employ seasonal or replacement workers on a temporary basis.

“Seasonal workers are often required for about six months of the year and according to the bill, farmers will now have to permanently employ workers after three months or they will have to get in a new team of temporary workers after three months and retrain them halfway through the season, which is not practical,” she said. Van der Westhuizen added that women in permanent employment on farms were entitled to four months’ maternity leave but the proposed amendments would make it impossible to temporarily employ a replacement for a four-month period.

Denene hails from a sugar cane farm in Pongola, KwaZulu-Natal, but after school she relocated to the Cape Winelands to study, for many years, at the University of Stellenbosch. She worked as a journalist for Farmer’s Weekly since 2009 and in 2015 moved to Johannesburg as Deputy editor for the magazine. In 2016 she was appointed editor. Chances are the magazine won’t get rid of her soon, because the job allows her to write about two of her greatest passions – wine and politics. When she is not sitting behind her desk writing, riding around in bakkies with farmers, attending meetings in parliament or tasting new wines, you’ll most likely find her on the beach or in the kitchen trying out exotic recipes.