Recently gazetted amendments to existing labour legislation stipulate that contract workers employed for longer than six months be given the same benefits as those permanently employed.
They also seek to regulate labour brokers more strongly. Since the amendments have not yet been finalised, it’s difficult to predict exactly what they’ll encompass, but industry experts aren’t hopeful. “Strict labour laws constrain the economy terribly,” said Ian Ollis, DA MP and spokesperson for labour. “In this economic climate, the laws should be relaxed to encourage employment and enhance the ease of doing business.”
Ollis added that although the amendments don’t seem as harsh as Cosatu wanted them to be, they’ll still “make life for employers more difficult.” Anton Rabe, chairperson of Agri SA’s labour committee, said farmers aren’t alone in feeling stricter labour laws hamper employment, pointing out that minister in the presidency Trevor Manuel and finance minister Pravin Gordhan also previously said labour laws need to be relaxed in order to create more jobs.
But the fact that government is going ahead with the amendments points to “politicking” and the fact that business isn’t as high a priority as it should be, added Rabie. Ollis warned that implementing the laws will be expensive and small businesses will find it especially difficult to absorb the extra costs.
Dr Theo de Jager, farmer and deputy president of Agri SA, said that because government has made it very difficult to employ people and let them go if there’s a problem, farmers have found ways to make do with minimal labour through mechanisation. “I’ve stopped planting certain crops on my farm because they’re too labour intensive. I also stopped the last pick of my litchi trees because the labour costs more than the fruit is worth,” he explained.
Dr De Jager added that if farmers were given the right to fire an employee, in excess of 300 000 jobs could be created within the agricultural sector.