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 Labour Broker and Contract Workers Mobilise around their new Rights

2015/06/05

Labour Broker and Contract Workers Mobilise around their new Rights

 

The CWAO campaign around the new rights

Labour broker and contract workers have been mobilizing in large numbers in response to the CWAO awareness raising campaign around the new rights in the 2014 LRA. The organization currently has contact with 106 workplaces where workers are agitating for their new rights, involving over 10 000 workers.

 

The CWAO produced a number of popular materials highlighting the key new rights, including pamphlets, posters, a summary booklet and a DVD with drama sketches for viewing and broadcast on radio. Almost all of these were adapted for distribution via cellphone, particularly through Whatsapp.

 

The most successful intervention has been the early morning distribution of thousands of pamphlets in various industrial areas. In some cases, workers have patiently queued over the railway bridge to get their copy, in others they have cheerfully informed the distributors that they already have theirs. In several instances, workers have confronted their bosses armed only with the pamphlet.

 

Worker responses

Workers started confronting bosses virtually from the first day of the pamphlet distribution, and continue to do so as the pamphleteering itself continues. At the same time, many workers were also very fearful of raising the issue for fear of losing their jobs. This was not an unfounded risk. At Medal Paints the employers locked out a large number of workers when the workers showed them the CWAO pamphlet and demanded to be employed permanently.

 

After a few weeks of pamphleteering the CWAO called a meeting at its Germiston offices of the many workplaces who had been in contact with it over the new rights.  Saturday 25 April was chosen, even though it was an end-of-month Saturday and a long weekend. When contacted about the suitability of the date, most workers said they would attend. This gave the CWAO the confidence to continue with the meeting.

 

Workers meet

The advice office had no idea how many workers would attend. On the day, 109 workers from 36 client and contracting companies attended. This exceeded expectations, and instantly confirmed that labour broker and contract workers are more than willing to organize to get their new rights. Significantly, most workers were present by the 9.30 starting time, with some having arrived much earlier.

 

Workers were invited to share their experiences of fighting for their new rights. It emerged that most bosses were giving workers new contracts to sign, often threatening dismissal if they did not. At the end of the meeting, workers committed to meeting on a monthly basis to share experiences and strengthen their respective struggles. A call was also made for education work around the new rights.

 

On 9 May, a second meeting was convened. The purpose of the meeting was to provide further education on the new rights by a CCMA commissioner specializing in the new section 198 of the LRA, and to get updates on workplace developments. One hundred and forty four workers from 31 companies attended the training.

 

The CWAO also had its own lawyers present to answer worker questions and advise on courses of action at both these meetings.

 

Struggles begin to intensify

By this stage, workers at some workplaces were referring their disputes with the employers to the CCMA and bargaining councils. On 23 May, the CWAO again hosted a meeting, to give feedback to workers where letters of demand had been sent to bosses, where disputes had been referred, to discuss new developments in workplaces, and to allow workers to process documents for new dispute referrals.

 

One hundred and sixty three workers from 29 workplaces attended the meeting, packing the CWAO office to capacity. At Clover in Clayville, workers had gone on an unprocedural work stoppage to demand the removal of a supervisor who had been baiting workers over the new rights. The worker representative in the meeting said that workers’ confidence to strike was due entirely to their awareness of the new rights. Most other workers reported large-scale intimidation and threats of dismissal by employers. The intimidation was mainly for workers to sign new contracts, in an attempt to bypass the new laws, which say that workers cannot work for longer than 3 months for client or contracting companies. After that they must be made permanent.

 

One worker summed up the mood by saying it was clear that the problems facing workers were the same, and that the task was to find ways of building solidarity and a common struggle. “This here is our union”, he said, symbolically wrapping his arms around the assembled group of workers. Workers resolved to meet every second week instead of monthly, recognising the value of meeting on a regular basis.

 

Some trends and tendencies

The responses, to the meetings and outside of them, have shown very high degrees of self-organisation among workers. Some have arrived with explicit mandates from their fellow comrades, others have arrived with handwritten lists of fellow workers who are fighting beside them and want to be included in the dispute referrals. In quite a few cases, workers have directly approached their managements about their new rights without any assistance from the advice office.

 

Even at this very early stage, it is clear that the new rights are proving a very sound basis for organizing labour broker and contract workers, and the emergence of a new wave of worker organizing outside of the traditional trade union form. This is confirmed negatively by the presence of workers from large auto plants such as Nissan and Ford, and parastatals such as Eskom and Transnet, traditional trade union strongholds. By the third meeting, large groups of workers from individual workplaces were beginning to attend, suggesting that the struggle around the new rights is resonating with the majority of affected workers.

 

An interesting feature of the meetings has been the spread of workplaces present, from auto to logistics, from chemical to retail, from food processing to electrical contracting. Yet, not once have workers stressed their differences, only ever the common nature of their problems.

 

Most of the workers are young, with a sizeable presence also of women workers. While some workers have had some union experience, most seem free of the baggage of the past, and bring fresh energy and enthusiasm to the task of organizing themselves.

 

While the old trade unions wither away, labour broker and contract workers are showing that a new wave of organizing workers is eminently possible.

 

Casual Workers Advice Office

June 2015


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