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Workers’ rights are human rights

The month of May is Workers Month, a time for all workers to learn more about their rights – rights that South Africa’s government protects with some of the best labour laws in the world.

In South Africa's labour law, workers doing work of equal value must get equal pay.May is Workers’ Month in South Africa, a time to celebrate the people who build our country. South Africa’s labour laws “tick all the right boxes” when compared to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, South Africa’s 1955 Freedom Charter, and our Bill of Rights, says Minister of Labour Mildred Oliphant.

“We have chosen the 2017 Workers Month to take stock and celebrate how far we have come in our quest for social justice through labour relations dispensation,” the Minister said recently.

Government has made even more improvements to our labour laws over recent years. These include protection from abuses by labour brokers, better maternity benefits for working women, trade union rights and more.

Trade unions

Trade unions and the right to organise are protected by the Labour Relations Act (LRA). Before, unions needed 50 per cent representation plus one in a company to be recognised as the majority union. Today, Commissioners can award majority rights to unions that represent the most workers, as long as there is no union with majority rights already.

Employees on short-term contracts have also been granted the right to union protection. They also enjoy the right to picket at both their employer’s and the labour broker’s premises.

Temporary Employment Services are regulated by the LRA to prevent abuse of workers on short-term contracts. Any employee contracted for longer than three months will be deemed to be employed indefinitely unless there are justifiable reasons otherwise.

Labour brokers

Before, some employers used labour brokers to keep down costs and avoid complying with labour legislation. Changes to our labour laws mean that now, workers sourced by labour brokers are considered to be employed by the company they work for, irrespective of the contract with a labour broker.

Employers also are now required to justify why a permanent appointment cannot be made at the end of a fixed-term contract. Lack of an offer – no matter the length of the contract – can be interpreted as unfair dismissal.

Dismissals are also deemed unfair if they come as a result of an employee refusing to accept a demand in a matter considered of mutual interest. These – pay cuts or longer hours – are in the ambit of collective bargaining.

Unemployment insurance fund

Maternity benefits from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) are now paid at a fixed rate of 66 per cent of earnings instead of the previous sliding scale of 38 per cent to 66 per cent. Also, a worker who miscarries in the third trimester of her pregnancy is entitled to full maternity benefits.

Domestic workers are also entitled to claim from the UIF, as long as they have been registered by their employer and they are paying monthly contributions.

“South Africa was among the first four countries to ratify the ILO Convention concerning decent work for domestic workers,” Minister Oliphant said.

“We urge trade unions and individual workers to assist in raising the awareness of the rights and responsibilities of workers in our labour laws.”  

"It is our responsibility to break down barriers of division and create a country where there will be neither Whites nor Blacks, just South Africans, free and united in diversity."