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SA trending towards temporary employment in South Africa

Kay Vittee

Africa is unique as global labour trends often don't apply to us. Our realities are, in many ways, so far removed from the US, UK and European norms that international trends seldom, if ever, reach South Africa. Sometimes, we fall in line with these trends despite our great differences and our seemingly 'buck-the-trend' labour policies and practices. A recent research study - conducted by recruitment firm, PageGroup - found that employers from 17 different countries were positive and confident about temporary employment, and expected the need for these types of workers to increase or remain high.


Some of the research findings are:

  • 80.4% of all employers surveyed have a positive perception of temporary employment,78.1% expect the need for temporary workers to stay the same or increase in the future,
  • 50.5% of the employers choose to hire temporary workers to replace absent permanent staff, and
  • 40.8% of employers use temporary staff to cope with an unexpected increase in activity.

Over the past decade, the international trend has been to limit or remove restrictive labour laws to ensure global competitiveness. However, this isn't the case in South Africa. Some of the current additions and proposed amendments to our labour laws have been criticised for potentially making South Africa a less attractive investment option. This concern is supported by the World Economic Forum, which suggests that South Africa has arguably the most restrictive labour laws in the world.

Some of the proposed labour law amendments deal with labour brokers

Rather than ban labour brokers, the South African government has developed the Employment Services Bill, which is intended to regulate the labour broker industry. This piece of legislation was passed in the National Assembly in late 2013 and is pending presidential sign-off so that it can be put into law.

The debate on whether the proposed act will positively or negatively contribute to the creation of employment rages on, with labour organisations, political parties and business weighing in on the topic.

But what seems quite obvious - in the Stats SA's Quarter 4, 2013 - Quarterly Labour Force Survey and the most recent Adcorp Employment Index - is that despite this impending legislation, the only growth in South Africa's employment level is because of an increase in temporary or short-term contracts. In fact, permanent employment is in outright decline.

The ultimate irony, of course, is that one of the reasons identified in the latest Adcorp Employment Index (May 2014) as to why temporary staffing is strong is, in fact, our restrictive labour laws. Other reasons include:

  • The modern economy,
  • Outsourcing non-core activities, and
  • Flexible hours.

Although similar, there is one reason conspicuously absent in the list cited by the employers surveyed in the PageGroup research, which includes:

  • Flexibility (89.4%),
  •  Value in answering short-term needs (87.8%),
  • Benefit in identifying candidates for long-term positions (75.7%),
  • Cost-effective solution to HR challenges (61.2%), and
  • Bringing external expertise into the business (49.1%).

There is no mention of labour law, restrictive or not, in the PageGroup findings, which is a further indication that - as stated in the May Adcorp Employment Index -'restrictive labour laws in South Africa have encouraged firms to apply innovative methods and clever commercial contracting to engage workers', temporary employment being one of them.

Kay Vittee is the CEO of Quest Staffing Solutions and previously she worked at Absa. Kay is also a superb business leader who inspires her organisation to live the essence of superior customer service. Clients trust her judgement and will continue to include her in driving quality solutions for their businesses.