Thanks to Talita and Qaqamba for their erudite piece on reform to temporary employment relationships in South Africa. It was interesting to read how key issues in South Africa are similar to those facing the EU.
The European Union implemented a directive, namely the Temporary Agency Workers’ Directive (commonly known as the Agency Workers’ Directive) in 2008. The issue of the use of temporary labour had been on the European agenda from 1995 when, most noticeably, the German and the UK governments blocked the implementation of protective measures. The then European Commission thought that providing protection for temporary workers would create certainty and stimulate flexibility in the labour market whereas the initial UK position was that it would erode flexibility for employers.
In October 2011, the Agency Workers’ Regulations (AWRs) came into force in the UK. Essentially the AWRs give agency workers equal working and employment conditions with employees of a client firm after a 12 week qualification period. However, the famous Swedish derogation model was also “written into” the regulations. This is an option open to companies whereby the agency pays workers between assignments effectively making them their permanent employers and not assign them to an individual company.
The CBI carried out an interesting survey a couple of years ago in conjunction with Harvey Nash as to the impact of the AWRs on employers. Out of a total workforce of 1.9 million people the report found nearly 60% of employers had reduced their use of agency workers and one in twelve firms had stopped using them entirely. The survey went on to find that more than a third of companies were turning to fixed term contracts instead and 27% had worked their way around the requirements for equal pay by adopting the Swedish derogation model.
The issue of flexibility and protection for those of “non-employee” status is still very much alive within the European Union. The issue of the use of temporary labour, and what is seen as exploitation of labour, has been high on the Labour Party’s agenda with current leader Ed Milliband committed to tackle what he sees as the “zero zero economy” namely the danger of exploitation of those on zero hour contracts. Though this is an issue not unique to the UK. Across the EU and in particular in Central and Eastern Europe there is a debate going on as to how labour can be more effectively utilised by ensuring flexible models of work, but at the same time not to the extent where it impacts on the responsibility towards workers and the negative impact that excessive flexibility can have on social cohesion.
As governments seek to wrestle with the issue of the global economic crisis it was therefore interesting to read Talita and Qaqamba’s article which clearly shows that there is a conflict between the views of trade unions and the private sector across the globe. It will be interesting to see how this legislation impacts on the labour force in South Africa and if it hinders or promotes economic efficiency.