Department of Labour Annual Report 2003: briefing

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Meeting report

SELECT COMMITTEE ON LABOUR AND PUBLIC ENTERPRISES
11 February 2004
DEPARTMENT ANNUAL REPORT 2003: BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Ms C Nkuna (ANC)

Documents handed out::
Department Annual Report 2003

SUMMARY
Director-General, Rams Ramashia, informed the Committee on Department achievements over the past year. The Committee was impressed to hear the ground that had been covered by the Department. The programme for 2004 had not yet been approved by the Minister.

MINUTES
The Department outlined the 15-point programme that had guided their work in the five-year period ending in March 2004. They listed the core objectives as improving public quality of life through a set of polices and programmes developed in consultation with social partners; improving economic efficiency and productivity; encouraging skills; facilitating employment creation and sound labour relations; eliminating inequality and discrimination in the workplace, and alleviating poverty in employment. They explained their strategies and the recent legislative framework in which they operated, as well as a long list of achievements in 2003.

Discussion
Ms Nkuna was curious about foreign investor's impressions of the local labour market in the face of tighter, more worker protective legislation.

The Department responded that despite false perceptions, the new labour laws had shown success in terms of both providing job security to workers and flexibility for employers. Former sceptics had seen a remarkable improvement since the introduction of new legislation. The previous Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) deficit of R200 million had been turned into a positive balance of around R4 billion.

Ms N Ntwanambi (ANC) raised concerns about the plight of vulnerable farmworkers who were evicted or unemployed.

The Director-General replied that evicted farmworkers were the responsibility of the Department of Land Affairs. Vulnerable workers could seek assistance from respective trade unions, or communicate directly with the Department of Labour. The Department had a set of programmes designed to improve the training of farmworkers in the form of the Primary and Secondary Agriculture SETAs. These programmes offered an incentive to participating farmers.

Ms Ntwanambi asked whether the Skills Development Act related to farm and domestic workers, and who paid for further training.

The Department replied there was a Services SETA dedicated to training for domestic and other work in the early childhood development, social development, health, and hospitality fields. These were financed by levies paid by the employers of domestic workers.

A Member presented the example of an eighteen-year-old matriculated seasonal worker who could benefit from tertiary education or some form of training. What training avenues were available to such a person?

The Department responded that such persons could approach the Department for advice on the most suitable training programme for their specific needs and talents. These programmes were usually conducted in areas identified as viable for future employment. The Department was also re-introducing apprenticeships and learnerships.

Ms Ntwanambi asked how the Department was tackling alcoholism among farmworkers.

The Department responded that this was covered by the Occupational Health and Safety Act that dealt with wellbeing in the workplace.

Ms D Ramodibe (ANC) enquired about the success of worker co-operatives in job creation, and the number of women employed by such schemes.

Since the National Growth and Development Summit had commissioned research on workers' co-operatives, a strategy was being developed for implementation by the DTI. NEDLAC was in the process of finalising the research publication.

The Department related their success in reaching women's and disabled persons' quotas set out by the National Skills Development Agency. However, the private sector had not met this target. Some 75% of people trained by the Department were now employed.

Ms Ramodibe was concerned about the number of domestic workers who had lost their jobs as a result of the new legislation.

The DOL replied there was no evidence of such job losses. On the contrary, there had been a significant increase in the number of registered domestic workers. The issue of domestic workers with more than one employer was being addressed.

Ms Ramodibe asked whether the Centre for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) was able to field all the complaints referred to them, and whether those appointed to represent complainants were competent.

The Department responded that the CCMA was generally coping well in dealing with mediations and arbitrations. In Gauteng there was a backlog as a result of the great volume of complaints. Although legislative timeframes ensured that cases were timeously resolved, there were instances where this was not possible due to the nature of particular hearings. The CCMA was funded by the government and provided quarterly reports for monitoring purposes.

The topic of casualisation had been discussed at the Growth and Development Summit, and was being researched. The trend of converting permanent positions to casual or temporary positions was being extensively researched in light of the recent Shoprite/Checkers strike. The results of this research were due at the end of the first quarter of 2004. It would include a report on the extent of the trend in the economy, and if there was a need to make legislative adjustments in order to protect workers.

The Department told the Committee the tendency of farmers to hold back wages was unlawful unless it fell within specific guidelines. Department inspectors were checking that any such practices were reflected on payslips, and that laws were being obeyed.

There was a perception that many farmworkers had been laid off because of sectoral determination. If true, this was illegal. The Department had investigated and found that in some areas, particularly KZN province, the farming industry was undergoing a change of focus from farming to tourism and game farms. Thus it had become necessary to retrench farmworkers.

Sub-contracting was sometimes a guise for slavery, and had been found to be a well-camouflaged practice, in some cases on government-sponsored projects.

Mr Ramashia commented that when sectoral determination was promulgated, there had been much opposition in the form of threats to lay off workers, etc. The law did protect people from illegal dismissals and any complaints could be handled by the CCMA. Any 'rotten apples' within the CCMA should be reported.

The Department emphasised that it did not create jobs, but helped the unemployed find work by assisting them with training, advice on opportunities, skills, etc.

The Committee discussed that it was unlawful for employment agencies to charge more than R1 for new registrations. Under a new law, this R1 would no longer be payable. There was an obligation for all agencies to register with the Department and pass prescribed testing standards.

Ms Ramodibe mentioned a case of gross exploitation on a farm in Mpumalanga. She regretted that the provincial MEC was not present to provide details. She commended the work of the Department, adding that their input would be of assistance when the time came to canvass constituencies.

The Chairperson applauded the work of the Department for its achievements in the past term, and the Department thanked the Committee for the opportunity to brief them.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

 

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