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Victory for workers at Dis-Chem

Publication: GroundUp
Author: Zoë Postman

Employees who had been working through a labour broker to become permanent

About 120 people who have been working for Dis-Chem through a temporary employment service are to be made permanent employees of the retail chain from 1 December.

The workers were employed by Workforce Holdings. After working at Dis-Chem for over three months, the workers approached the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) in April, arguing that they should be made permanent employees of Dis-Chem.

Edgar Mokgola, an organiser at the Casual Workers Advice Office (CWAO), said several Workforce Holdings employees came to the office for help. In a settlement reached at the CCMA, the workers, the CWAO, Workforce Holdings and Dis-Chem agreed on 7 November that the workers should be taken on by Dis-Chem and made permanent employees next month.

Workforce Holdings supplied the workers to Dis-Chem in January during a strike by Dis-Chem workers over unpaid bonuses and recognition of the trade union, the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers, at the warehouse in Midrand. The Workforce Holdings workers were employed to fill in for the strikers but Dis-Chem decided not to dismiss them once the strike had ended.

Nicole Khosa, who is one of the workers, has been working at Dis-Chem since January, checking stock. She earns about R3,200 a month depending on how many shifts she is assigned.

“Sometimes we would go to work and be told by our managers that they don’t have work for us and we must come back the following week … If we worked maybe two shifts a week, we could go home with R900 or so,” Khosa told GroundUp.

She said she was satisfied with the agreement because now they would be permanent employees and get benefits such as medical aid and a provident fund.

“This is a huge victory … they will now get benefits that they were not previously entitled to,” Mokgola told GroundUp.

He said Workforce Holdings had been the “stumbling block” in the process. “Dis-Chem acknowledged that they wanted to make the workers permanent but Workforce refused to release their workers, claiming that they were service providers and not labour brokers,” he said.

Workforce Holdings declined to comment.

CWAO’s website summarises the Labour Relations Act definition of a labour broker as “anyone who gets money for supplying workers to a client company and pays the workers’ wages”.

An amendment to the Labour Relations Act which came into effect in 2015 means that people who have been working for a client company for more than three months should be made permanent employees of the company (with some exceptions).

Spokesperson for Dis-Chem Caryn Barker told GroundUp that the hourly rate for the workers would be higher than their current rate. They would qualify for a bonus if Dis-Chem paid bonuses this year.

She said Dis-Chem had absorbed over 200 former contract workers on the same basis.

“There was never any question about our willingness to provide permanent employment to those individuals who have been in our system for longer than three months. Unfortunately the process was delayed for reasons beyond our control, but we are satisfied with the agreement that was eventually reached,” said Barker.

Correction: A quote in the article originally attributed to the Labour Relations Act, is actually the CWAO’s summary of the Act. A few other minor corrections were made.

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