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Minister of Labour has no money for Health & Safety

The Minister of labour, Mildred Oliphant, delivered her budget speech to the National Council of Provinces on 12 June 2018 seeking a favourable vote on a R3,2 billion budget.

The introduction of the speech had a lot of political and historical reminiscence and re-emphasised the rights of the people of SA to a free, just and democratic society, but it failed dismally to make any mention of the right to a safe and healthy work environment.

Ms Oliphant did however mention that workplace accidents and diseases had cost the country R3,6 billion.

“During the period under review, the fund adjudicated 189 788 claims on time, resulting in payment of benefits to deserving beneficiaries to the tune of 3,6 billion Rand and a total of 11.7 billion Rand since 2014.” She stated.

She also pointed out that the new labour laws, such as the Labour Relations and Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Acts, were tabled at the NCOP. Interestingly enough, the whole country’s labour force are often held for ransom by trade unions, who in fact only represents 10% of the SA Population and less than 30% of the employed people.

According to Oliphant, “This means that, there is a large number of workers that have no union representation and as such, are not likely to benefit directly from collective bargaining processes.These are often workers that trade unions have not been able to organise, or, their unions are not strong enough to represent them through collective bargaining. Therefore, instruments such as the Ministerial Determinations and the National Minimum Wage, are designed, precisely to address the plight of this category of workers.

DOL to step up quality of service

Minister Oliphant said that “It is undeniable that our infrastructure has not kept up with the volumes of people that use our service offerings, as a result, this has inevitably compromised the quality of service delivery in some instances. For this reason, we have developed plans to ramp up our infrastructure and modernisation of our service delivery platforms.”

While this may be commendable, no mention was made of the appointment of more inspectors to increase law enforcement.

In addition to putting in place bricks and mortar service delivery centres in some areas and introducing mobile service platforms, we are also modernising the infrastructure through embracing and enhancing technology.

Change is coming.  Should we hold our breath?

While the new OHS Bill has been announced to see the light of day since 2016, there is no evidence suggesting the Minister wants this bill passed during this term of parliament. But change is coming.

According to the Minister, “The Compensation of Occupational Injuries and Diseases Amendment Bill has taken rather too long to be finalised at NEDLAC.  We are still hoping that we will still be able to table it in parliament before the end of the current term.

There seem to be no political will to improve Health and Safety in the workplace, but the Minister has made provision in her budget for a few “busses”. Four of them exactly.

“To this end the Compensation Fund has initiated a process to acquire four fully equipped busses to service our communities.  Two of these busses will be equipped as Mobile medical Clinics and the other two with administrative capabilities.” She reported

The Mobile Clinics will provide services such as Occupational Therapy, assess hearing, lung functioning, vision, weight, height and general physical conditions to assist in determining liability in terms of COIDA, as well as, the need for medical aid.

The two Administrative buses will cater for COID services in the form of registration, assessment, claim processing, medical & compensation benefits.

Once again we found a retrospective approach to workplace safety. We find a budget allowing for tax payers money to be spent “after injuries” have occurred, yet not a shred of evidence suggesting that there will be a proactive drive to improve safety law enforcement, education and employer assistance.

She did however set out the DOL’s action plan for the coming financial year and admitted, given past performance, that it is ambitious deliverables.

“We have set ourselves ambitious deliverables which include, but not limited to:

  • Reviewing our business processes;
  • upgrading our IT Infrastructure and tools of trade;
  • updating our labour centre model and
  • filling the 40 vacancies as a matter of urgency.
  • training and retraining of our staff on customer service etiquette.

Spending more money on the unemployed

According to the Minister, the UIF intends “to employ over 200 Client Services Officers to be deployed across labour centres in order to improve service delivery.  We are also adding new capacity in our call centres as part of our drive to improve service delivery.”

Should it not be more feasible to create more employers?

The DOL seems to be focused on the unemployed, yet despite its commendable efforts, “jobs” are needed to tip the balance and increase the number of employed people. The more “employable” people we have, the less the demand for these people and the lower the value of these people in terms of wages offered.

The efforts the DOL has made to create new jobs was to partner with the Public Investment Corporation, to invest in “projects” and the Industrial Development Corporation by injecting 4 billion Rand of its investible income into a developmental fund that has helped save thousands of jobs in the distressed manufacturing sector, while also creating new jobs.

The Minister reported that “We are satisfied that this partnershipis delivering on its objective given that already, it has created 29 895 jobs and saved 16 560 jobs to date”.

If we off-set the new and saved jobs (46 455) against those lost through workplace accidents and illnesses, we have to ask if any progress is made?

CCMA’s New role could result in job losses

The Amendment to the COIDAct will give the CCMA a new function which will provide the dispute resolution capability and recovery of monies payable to workers. A large part of this service is currently provided by private individuals and businesses specialising in labour dispute resolutions. It is however uncertain to what extent the CCMA’s function will impact on private enterprise, but from experience we do know that the process will take much longer due to a lack of capacity already admitted by the DOL.

“Intensifying dispute management and dispute prevention is gaining traction and remain a priority for the CCMA.  The CCMA conducted 3 592 outreach activities aimed at both raising awareness of its value proposition and capacity building.   More than fifty-three thousand people participated in capacity building engagements thereby improving their understanding of their rights and responsibilities in terms of the labour law. This programme also dealt with educating ordinary workers on how to access the services and the relief that CCMA provides.” The Minister reported. 

The Proposed DOL budget for 2018/19 is as follows:

  1. The CCMA: R963 million
  2. Administration; R917,3 million
  3. Inspection and Enforcement: R598,2 million
  4. Public employment services: R582,7 million
  5. Nedlac: R31,7 million

Source: South African Department of Labour

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