A way round the labour laws

Should job-seekers be able to voluntarily forego some of the protections of the labour laws?

WHILE GOVERNMENT, business and labour try to agree on the best way to reform the labour laws so that their provisions weigh less heavily on small and medium size businesses — the engines of job creation — the Malamulela Social Movement for the Unemployed has already suggested a practical way forward. It has produced a customised contract of employment in which the unemployed job seeker voluntarily agrees to forego some of the protection of the labour laws — the 1995 Labour Relations Act, the 1997 Basic Conditions of Employment Act and the Wage Act — in return for that most sought after of all benefits, a formal sector job.

The prospective employee who signs this contract agrees to work 50 hours a week, to work overtime at 1.3 of ordinary wages, and to accept that either party may give one week’s notice of termination of contract, for any reason whatsoever. No discussions about the employer’s retrenchment policy will be taking place there. Clause 17 of the contract underlines the point: "I am entering into this contract with you at my request and on my own initiative, specifically to enable us to overcome operational difficulties created by the Acts, namely the extra costs entailed in complying with them, so that I can be gainfully employed."

On his side, the employer agrees to allow the employee 14 days’ leave a year, one day of sick leave per month, to join the medical aid scheme and retirement fund if the company has one and, for female employees, just 30 days maternity leave. He also accepts that the employee is entitled to reasonable, safe and healthy working conditions and to just procedures in the event of disciplinary proceedings.

Corley Mashego, deputy president of Malamulela, says that they are having discussions with the department of labour and Cosatu about the contract but would not be waiting for official approval to try to find small companies willing to implement it.

The government, which insists that the public sector is different from the private sector, is also applying for exemptions from the Basic Conditions of Employment Act for essential services such as the police or children’s homes, where irregular hours are intrinsic to the work and overtime pay is onerous. But the employer who seeks exemption has first to get the trade unions’ consent and Nehawu is already squaring up for a fight. When the labour minister, Membathisi Mdladlana, reviews the Act he might reflect, given that employers, government and now the unemployed want exemption from it, why it was a good idea to enact it in the first place.