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Michael Bagraim | 15 April 2023

Michael Bagraim writes that rules and regulations have been part of our society for thousands of years. Without adherence to these rules and regulations, the entire system will collapse, and the structure will not hold. Pictured- Members of Ulemasa protest outside the Chinese embassy, claiming that they are not following South Africa's labour laws. Photographer: Jacques Naude/African News Agency(ANA)

The system of laws, including the regulations and structured environment, is needed to ensure that society runs smoothly and that proper governance prevents anarchy and a breakdown of the system.

Rules and regulations have been part of our society for thousands of years. Without adherence to these rules and regulations, the entire system will collapse, and the structure will not hold.

For these rules and regulations to be effective, we cannot only rely on the policing and enforcement of these rules. The law requires legitimacy, understanding and buy-in from the people who are going to be subjected to those laws. Notoriously, laws that are not respected and held in low esteem will find very little following.

In our labour legal system, we are seeing less and less adherence to the various pieces of labour legislation. Legislation such as the Labour Relations Act and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act is the cornerstone of our labour legal system.

We have other laws, such as Employment Equity, BEE and the National Minimum Wage. These laws are becoming less and less effective, specifically because those entities that are meant to adhere to these laws hold them in very low esteem and have no respect for them.

For a law to be properly implemented, it needs to be legitimate, understandable and plausible. Furthermore, it is common knowledge that the Department of Employment and Labour have very few inspectors, who also happen to be ill-resourced.

The entire enforcement environment is inundated and simply cannot cope with the amount of non-adherence. We have thousands of businesses that are daily breaking the law but have never seen an inspector. Clearly, this is not the way to ensure that the law is respected. The only way is to have laws that make sense and that are easily understood. Over and above this, the laws must be useful to both employer and employee.

It is cheaper and more effective to ensure that we have labour legislation that is meaningful and fully understood. Once we have laws that are more acceptable, we then need to embark upon a campaign to educate the employment sector as to why the legislation is needed. On the other hand, laws such as the minimum wage are extremely difficult to explain to employers.

The minimum wage legislation has led to mass unemployment in the sense that it is a handbrake to job creation. In other words, the minimum wage legislation has created a situation where employers have gone out of their way to rather look to mechanise, computerise and outsource.

Over and above this, employers throughout the country appear to be in breach of the minimum wage legislation in many, many thousands of instances. In many of these instances, the trade union movement has turned a blind eye to the breach.

The unemployment situation in South Africa is so dire that many of the trade unions have had pressure from their members to turn a blind eye to the minimum wage breaches. Likewise, it is compulsory to give employees contracts of employment and payslips.

There is an extremely good reason why an employer would have to give a payslip and a contract of employment. Most employers don’t think this through and just ignore the law. In reality, if the Department of Employment and Labour chose to go out on an education campaign explaining why this paperwork is useful for both employer and employee, it would make an enormous difference.

It is explained to employers that the contract of employment is a very effective tool in structuring discipline and adherence to the rules of the workplace.

Former President Nelson Mandela said at the time of the implementation of the Labour Relations Act that the legislation should be simple yet comprehensive and easily understood by the workers – and everyone should understand the benefits.

The current government, under the ANC, has made the legislation more and more complex and less and less understood. The current government appears to be punishing the employers of South Africa which, in turn, is to the detriment of future employment.

* Michael Bagraim.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’.


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