Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Leaders of our social partners,
Ladies and gentlemen.
Honourable Chairperson, allow me to add my voice behind many voices that are calling for an end to the attacks on foreign nationals. Watching these outright criminal acts against our fellow human beings, I was reminded of what the founding President of our democratic South Africa, the late Nelson Mandela, who once said, and I quote.
“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”. Close quote. We must also take note that the South African Labour Laws are grounded on the fundamental African philosophy of Ubuntu in that, they protect workers regardless of their geographic origins, documented or undocumented, I must hasten to add.
Honourable Members, Distinguished Guests Ladies and Gentlemen It is always a pleasure and an honour to address this august house on the occasion of our Budget Vote for the year ahead and beyond.
There is no doubt that this platform gives us an opportunity to account to the nation by: recalling the commitments we made in the previous Budget vote, giving an account of what we have done to execute these commitments highlighting challenges that we encountered in the process and indicating steps that are being taken to address them, Bragging about our milestone achievements to date and, pointing out what remains to be done.
It is of utmost significance that in June this year, we will be commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the Freedom Charter, the Road-Map set by the Congress of the People in 1955.
The Freedom Charter provided a clear and concise set of policies, aims, objectives and principles of the Congress Alliance. It served as a vision of a post-apartheid South Africa, which was to be used as a weapon in the struggle for democracy.
It is therefore not by accident, Honourable Chairperson and fellow South Africans, that the Freedom Charter has to this day, remained the cornerstone of the ruling Party’s policies and it is, in all accounts, the foundation of the South African Constitution.
There are many instances where the Freedom Charter is captured word for word in many passages of our Constitution, the ruling party’s Election Manifestos and in our Labour Laws. It is also true that our labour laws are an expression of the Congress of the people’s declaration that ‘There shall be Work and Security’.
We have learnt a great deal from our complex past, adding continuously to our experience in the things that we do. “No political democracy can survive and flourish if the mass of our people remain in poverty, without land, without tangible prospects for a better life (RDP, 1998).
These are some of the reference points that inform what we do, and our Labour Laws are designed in the manner that seeks to do precisely these things. Honourable Chairperson, I would like the house to note that our budget is presented to this house a week after we have celebrated Worker’s Day.
The Worker’s Day celebration is a perfect reminder to all of us, that indeed we are free and that the rights we enjoy today cannot be taken for granted as they came at a price. Recently we lost a number of tried and tested icons of our movement, some of whom were from the workers’ struggle tradition. We also witnessed the re-burial of the icons of the workers struggle, Moses Kotane and JB Marks, recently.
We pay homage to all our fallen heroes and heroines, we say to them, you will remain an inspiration to our work and may your souls rest in eternal peace.
Honourable Members, we decided on leveraging labour relations to contribute towards promoting social and economic well-being of our society as our theme for this budget vote. The choice of the theme was inspired, in the main, by the spirit and the letter of our Constitution and the Freedom Charter.
I am indeed proud of the fact that as a country we chose the rights based approach to realising the economic and social rights of our people particularly the poor and the marginalised. The affirmation that our labour market dispensation is premised on focusing on the promotion of minimum conditions to restore workers dignity as a people is correct and non-negotiable.
It is also correct that our labour laws set minimum conditions and our social partners are encouraged to do better. The principle that you cannot vary the minimum conditions downwards is important. We will celebrate a day when all the employers were to stand up and say our workers enjoy working conditions that are way above the set minimum standards.
This year, as we celebrate the 21st Anniversary of Democracy in this country, it is almost impossible to ignore the contribution that the new labour market dispensation has made in terms of transforming the workplace.
It has been a long but interesting journey of working with our social partners, business, labour and community constituency who have, together with us, co-created the architecture of our labour regulatory framework. We should all be proud that our labour laws are counted among the best in the world.
Honourable Chairperson At the risk of sounding too simplistic, there is some truth that when workers earn a living wage, it means they have reasonable disposable income to spend on goods and services produced by the economy if the demand on goods and services rises, the entire supply change inevitably start experiencing increase in their output volumes, resulting in direct and indirect positive social and economic spin-offs. Given that our economy is by and large consumer-led, the scenario painted above cannot be ignored.
Our labour market policy landscape does have in its mix, a comprehensive unemployment insurance facility which is considered an international best practice. The Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) is one of the key elements of social security safety net. It is a fact and not fiction that the Compensation Fund is arguably one of the biggest Medical Aids, and Pension Funds for workers who get injured or contract diseases at work.
Similarly the Training Lay-off scheme which is funded by the UIF, continue to assist companies in distress to keep workers in their payroll whilst skilling and reskilling. Despite a couple niggling process-flow related challenges, the scheme remains an important active labour market intervention.
These interventions, Honourable Members, provide income in instances where it would ordinarily not have been possible. They are critical as catalysts to promoting social and economic well-being of our society.
We can therefore boldly claim that our labour market policies are not a hindrance to economic growth, but a catalyst where and when it matters most. These active labour market interventions are key ingredients of our Social security safety nets.
Honourable Chairperson Honourable Members, Distinguished Guests Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me now take a moment to recall the commitments we made in the previous Budget vote and the highlights going forward. Please note that a more detailed account of these can be gleaned from our Annual Report. I will spend more time on the recently amended Labour Legislations as there were the most exciting and challenging achievements in the period under review.
Through the UIF-funded active labour market interventions, the Labour Activation Programme is becoming a game-changer of note in the facilitation of skills enhancement. We targeted to train 2 000 UIF beneficiaries to prepare them for re-entry into the labour market, but instead, 3 117 workers were supported and 600 of these trainees were re-absorbed in real jobs.
5104 were supported through training offered by accredited Sector Education and Training Authorities and, 450 aspiring entrepreneurs’ benefitted through tailored training programmes.
The fund ring-fenced R10 billion for socially responsible investments where the target will be to support labour intensive projects. Whilst the numbers may not be where we would want them, we are however very pleased with progress so far.
We are also pleased to report that the R29 million that was allocated to Productivity South Africa for turn-around solutions continue to yield excellent results. 3 891 jobs were saved through these interventions in the 201415 financial year. We also acknowledge and thank the Department of Trade and Industry for its continued support for the Workplace Challenge Programme, its impact is invaluable.
Honourable Members, the Compensation Fund has continued to be one of the key priority areas for the Department. We fully understand the challenges in the Fund and we are dealing with them.
In August 2014, the fund introduced a new electronic claims management system, Umehluko which cuts out the manual system which has been the main source of problems in the fund for many years. Umehluko has, within a short space of time, brought about demonstrable improvements in the processes of assessing and paying claims, albeit with some teething problems.
The new system, unlike the old manual system, cuts out human interference making it near impossible to be manipulated for sinister reasons. As service providers become more familiar with the system, teething problems will be minimal. We are going to build on progress made so far, targeting key operational areas such as Revenue Management and Building payroll Audit to improve efficiency in the collection of revenue covering the appropriate risk of employment.
We will also take steps to enhance the online registration capabilities and the introduction of a comprehensive Hospital case Management System. We have given ourselves tight timeframes to eradicate the back-log which has remained one of the biggest sources of frustrations among the service providers and workers alike. Our resolve to improve the Audit outcomes of the Fund, is also very much one of our top priorities.
We will keep the relevant Parliamentary Committees abreast of progress in this regard. Please bear with us as these things tend to take time.
You will recall Honourable Members that the Deputy President has been given the assignment to drive the engagement with the social partners to seek solutions to the new phenomena of prolonged strikes, strikes-related violence and investigating the Modalities of introducing a national minimum wage.
To this end, the Deputy President convened the Labour Relations Indaba on 4 November 2014, where a declaration and a roadmap to address these challenges were adopted. Work has already commenced in this regard.
In 2014 we identified a couple of key priority areas and I will touch briefly on some of them, with the Deputy Minister covering the rest.
To give a meaningful impact on the recently amended labour legislations, our Inspection and Enforcement arm has to be vigilant or else these workers gains will mean nothing. Therefore our efforts to strengthen the Inspection and Enforcement remain one of our top priorities.
We used Izimbizo to brief workers on what the new labour law amendments mean for them and how to derive maximum benefits from these fresh laws. We also used various Media platforms for creating awareness to the broader society on what the new Amendments mean for workers. CCMA and the Department ran roadshows around the country to raise awareness of the new Labour legislative dispensation.
In 2014 we said filling the post of the DG in the Department was our priority and indeed we have found a Director General, Mr Thobile Lamati and he has been in the job for a couple of months now.
Let me thank Mr Sam Morotoba who kept the Fort in an Acting capacity for at least 75% of the 201415 financial year.
Honourable Chairperson, Ladies and Gentlemen The Unemployment Insurance Amendment Bill which at this stage is before Parliament, since it could not be finalised by the fourth Parliament is being resuscitated as we speak.
The purpose of the proposed Amendments include, extending the period to draw unemployment benefits from eight to twelve months, extending the period within which a contributor can lodge a claim from six to twelve months, extending the scope of the fund to cover public servants and workers in the learnership programmes, among other things.
The Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Bill which is currently being consulted on with the social partners in Nedlac will be introduced in parliament during this period.
The purpose of the proposed Amendments is to align the Act with other labour legislations and to introduce provisions to regulate triangular relationships.
The Compensation of Occupational Injuries and Diseases Amendment Bill which is currently going through internal processes within the Department will also be tabled in Parliament during this period.
The purpose of the proposed Amendments is to align the Act with other labour legislations, introduce provisions that provide a legal framework for the Fund to promote habilitation and rehabilitation programmes to facilitate a return to work objective.
Given the significance and the benefits that will accrue to workers once these proposed Amendments become Law, and in the spirit and the letter of the Ruling Party’s 2009 and 2014 Election Manifestos, We humbly request that Parliament accord the consideration of these Bills a high degree of priority.
Honourable Chairperson, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am aised that it was the first time in the history of the Labour Relations in South Africa that four Labour Amendment Bills were signed into law in less than three months in succession. Some commentators even suggested that there was no international precedent of such an achievement.
Today, we are proud to have in our statute book, revised and progressive Labour Relations Act Basic Conditions of Employment Act, The Employment Equity Act and the landmark Public Employment Services Act.
I want to thank members of Parliament for their hard work in making this possible. Without you going an extra mile, this would not have been achievable. There are indeed bitter and joyous memories of the journey towards the adoption of these Amendments. We look forward to working with you on many fronts and this term will equally be busy given our plans going forward.
The challenge going forward will be to make the new laws count for workers in general and vulnerable workers in particular. I am aised that there are some employers who have dismissed workers in order to side-step the new amended laws. Others are contemplating approaching the Courts with a view to water down the transformational character of the revamped labour laws.
Well, as you may very well know that this has been the case for many years that some employers respond by dismissing workers every time when new labour law amendments that favour vulnerable workers, are put into place. Same thing happened in 1996 when the new LRA became law and it also happened in 1998 when the Basic Conditions of Employment Act became law.
Let me however, warn those employers who are engaging in this practice that there is a provision in the new law that is designed to prevent this practice if it is proven that they are doing this purely to side-step the law.
It is very strange that those who are bitter about some of the amendments are quiet about the mitigating provisions in the law. The law does provide exceptions where there are justifiable reasons. As for those who are seeking Court intervention with malicious intents, we are keeping an eye on you.
Our Inspectorate and Enforcement and the CCMA will have to rise to the occasion and become more vigilant in this respect. We must dismiss the myth that Labour Brokers create jobs, they don’t, as they are merely intermediaries.
Why these amendments Honourable Members and Fellow South Africans?
Whilst South Africa has made huge strides in transforming South Africa into a better place for all who live in it, transforming the workplace is the assignment that is still far from finish. It is ludicrous that some voices are already calling for sunset clauses on the Employment Equity when in actual fact there is no sign that the sun has even risen in some sectors.
In order to stay in touch with the changes brought about by internal and external factors, we also need to keep an eye on whether or not the policies we set are still capable of achieving the intended outcomes.
Indeed, examining the case law, our international obligations, poor levels of compliance and the emergence of new forms of employment, were some of the reasons for the recent Amendments. Some of the critical questions that we had to ponder as the rationale behind crafting these amendments included
1) Is it correct that a worker can be a casual for the rest of his or her working life?
2) Why should a worker be a temporary worker forever when the job that heshe does is permanent?
3) Why should a worker just because heshe is employed by a labour broker not be able to take hisher case to the CCMA or paid less than hisher colleague?
4) Why should there be differences in pay and conditions of work between and among employees performing the same or substantially the same work, or work of equal value?
5) Why should a work-seeker be charged a fee in order to be placed by temporary employment services agent?
Honourable Chairperson and Fellow South Africans I submit that in the main, the recent labour law amendments were driven, largely by the 2009 ruling party’s Manifesto, and by giving careful consideration to these questions. So it was the exercise of fine-tuning the law, tooling and retooling the labour market institutions so that they can do their work better.
What do these Amendments mean for the Labour Market, Honourable Members?
1) First and foremost these amendments bring clarity to areas of the labour law that were ambiguous.
2) They align the law with the case law and gaps identified by various Courts of the land.
3) They bring about alignment with our international obligations.
4) They address abusive practices that are inherent in various forms of employment such as labour broking.
5) These amendments address certain aspects of the sectoral determination in order to ensure that they remain meaningful to workers in the sectors concerned.
I am particularly pleased Fellow South Africans that, at the very least, most of what became the final products, were the outcome of negotiations by social partners in Nedlac, the input from the general public with few areas where absolute consensus could not be found and the rigor of the Economic Impact Assessment Test.
Our key priority areas going forward include:
1) Expediting the finalisation of the Unemployment Insurance Amendments Bill which could not be completed by the fourth Parliament due to the term coming to an end.
2) Improving the efficiency of the Compensation Fund.
3) Fast-tracking the Tabling of the proposed Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Amendment Bill and the Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Bill.
4) Rolling out the Self-help Kiosks in order to improve service Delivery.
5) Continuing to build the ICT capacity of the Department.
6) Reviewing minimum wages for the vulnerable sectors.
7) Ramping-up our performance in managing workplace conflict and dispute resolution.
8) Aancing the capacity of the inspectorate and enforcement.
9) Continuing to play a meaningful role in the international relations world of work.
Honourable Members, Ladies and Gentlemen whilst this budget is inadequate, relative to what needs to be done, we will do the best we can.
As I close, we would implore our social partners to continue their support of our endeavours to create a labour market environment conducive to investment, economic growth, job creation and decent work.
Honourable Chairperson let me thank the Deputy Minister of Labour, Inkosi Phathekile Holomisa, for his support during this time and it is clear that we indeed make a good team. Let me also thank the leadership of our social partners for their support and invaluable contributions during this time and we call on you to continue lending a hand.
Thanks to the DG, his Management team and the entire DoL staff for their efforts and support.
Last but not least, thanks to Members of this house, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Labour, the Whip and the Committee members for your invaluable support.
Let us “Leverage our labour relations to contribute towards promoting social and economic well-being of our society”
I would like to commend the 2 Billion 686 million and 867 thousand Rand budget of the Department of Labour to this house.
Together let’s move South Africa Forward.
Ndithi, Nangomso Honourable Members Amaqobokazana angalal ‘endleleni yazini kunyembekile!
Issued by: Department of Labour
Source : South African Government