Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Employees hired via labour brokerage firms will be entitled to benefits if they remain employed by a company for more than three months‚ the Labour Appeal Court in Johannesburg has ruled.

Judge Pule Tlaletsi ruled this week that employees of a labour broker become permanent employees of the client company after three months of working there. This judgment overturns a previous judgment handed down in 2015 when acting Judge Martin Brassey ruled that labour brokers and client companies are dual employers.

"The protection is a measure to ensure that these employees are not treated differently from the employees employed directly by the client. The purpose of these protections in the context of Section 198A [of the Labour Relations Act] is to ensure that the deemed employees are fully integrated into the enterprise as employees of the client‚" Tlaletsi said in the judgment.

The judgment came as a result of a case involving the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa), Assign Services‚ Krost Shelving and Racking, and the Commission for Conciliation‚ Mediation and Arbitration. Assign Services supplied workers to Krost‚ many of which worked for the company for more than three months.

Wayne Ncube‚ senior attorney for the strategic litigation unit at Lawyers for Human Rights‚ who represented the Casual Workers Advice Office, which was listed as a friend of the court in the case‚ said "This is a massive judgment".

The judgment will ensure that vulnerable people employed via labour brokers have "a lot more job security".

"What it means for employees who have been placed at a particular site by temporary employment services and have been working for more than three months at a particular site‚ [is] they can obtain employment obligations from an employer and not the labour broker‚" he said.

"This means they cannot be treated any less favourably than any other employee of that particular employer. A lot of companies — including the state and universities — what they try and do is to avoid their obligations in terms of the Labour Relations Act. They use labour brokers to distance themselves from the vulnerable employees which would be the people doing the cooking and cleaning, which is the majority of the urban population‚ particularly the poor people‚" Ncube said.

The judgment will ensure that vulnerable people employed via labour brokers have "a lot more job security". "If they get fired it needs to be done in terms of the Labour Relations Act and not simply by a company saying [it] cancelled the contract," Ncube said.

Labour lawyer Michael Bagraim agreed that the judgment means these employees will be protected against ill treatment and will have access to the same benefits as those employed directly by the company. Such benefits include a pension fund and medical aid.

"The significance of the judgment is that those employees are treated equally to the employees of the client and their rights are intact as being equal to other employees."

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