Temporary Employment Services (TES) have become increasingly popular in South Africa due to their flexibility and cost-effectiveness. However, due to their unique nature, governing legislation such as the Labour Relations Act as well as various court judgments, also present unique challenges regarding workers’ rights and employment conditions. Since TES’s pose a unique scenario, trade unions strive to ensure that workers in these arrangements receive fair treatment, job security, and adequate remuneration.

When a trade union seeks to exercise organisational rights in such scenarios, it has the option to do so either in the workplace of the TES or the workplace of any of the TES’s clients. This decision has significant implications for both the TES and its clients, as well as the employees represented by the trade union.

Workplace of the TES

Trade unions may choose to exercise their organisational rights within the TES’s workplace itself. This approach allows unions to engage directly with the TES management, negotiating collective bargaining agreements, and addressing concerns specific to the TES employees. By focusing on the TES as the employer, trade unions can address broader issues that affect all employees within the organisation.

From an employer’s perspective, allowing trade unions to exercise organisational rights within the TES workplace can create a platform for open dialogue and constructive collaboration. Such a scenario provides a central point of contact for negotiations and ensures that labour-related matters are addressed expeditiously and thoroughly. It is, however crucial that such engagements strike a balance between workers’ interests and the TES’s operational requirements to maintain the flexibility and cost-effectiveness of the temporary employment model.

Workplace of the TES’s Clients

The alternative to trade unions exercising their rights in the workplace of the TES is that they may opt to exercise their organisational rights in the workplace of any of the TES’s clients. This approach allows unions to engage with the client employers directly, thereby addressing concerns specific to the TES employees working at those sites or locations. By doing so, trade unions can negotiate industry-specific agreements and ensure that employees receive fair treatment within the specific work environments they operate in.

From an employer’s perspective, trade unions exercising organisational rights in the workplace of the TES’s clients can introduce additional intricacies to the relationship. For instance, the client employers may have their own employment arrangements, and operational requirements as well as established relationships with the TES. This overlapping dynamic may result in conflicting expectations and demands from the various stakeholders involved, possibly making it difficult to maintain smooth operations due to the different interests at play. In such a scenario, it is imperative that the trade unions, TES, and client establish clear lines of communication as well as manage expectations so as to foster collaboration to ensure the interests of all parties are addressed effectively and expeditiously.

Trade unions seeking to exercise organisational rights in temporary employment services have the option to do so either in the TES’s workplace or the workplace of any of the TES’s clients. Since this situation is fairly unique, both approaches have their advantages and challenges for employers. Engaging within the TES’s workplace allows for comprehensive negotiation and addressing broader issues. On the other hand, engaging with the TES’s clients enables industry-specific agreements and tailored solutions for employees. Regardless of the chosen approach, open dialogue between all stakeholders as well as purposeful collaboration, and finding a balance between workers’ rights and operational requirements, is crucial for the success of these engagements and will enable a smoother relationship and operations for employers.

Article by Daniel van der Merwe

National Collective Bargaining Coordinator