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Casualisation of labour detrimental

This article unravels in multiple perspectives the effects of casualisation, drawing issues and its arguments from a practical dimension and implied theoretical frameworks and also a landmark ruling on the practice by the Labour Court in which Rachel Kadzinga and Others v Eastern Textiles (Pvt) Ltd T/E Devstar Clothing (Judgement No LC/MC/02/2007) case will be quoted as an example.

Nhamo Kwaramba

It should be noted that casualisation is not only detrimental to the employees alone but also has grave consequences on the employer and national economy as well, hence the recommendation that casualisation be seriously checked.

Casualisation in the Zimbabwean labour market is a subject of great concern. There is an increase of casual employees filling positions that are permanent in nature. In line with employee vulnerability in Zimbabwe there is high level of unemployment and accompanying poverty. Many will agree that we have more than 80% if not 90% or more unemployment levels in the country. Half of which are fully qualified and experienced.

To see the extent of this problem, we need to look at the time one takes to find another job after termination of an employment contract.

Depending on the profession, it takes at least six months or a year to find employment. Those without experience can take much more unless one is not selective. As a result, companies and organisations opt for casual and fixed contracts to avoid the responsibility of paying benefits and incentives enjoyed by permanent employees.

In my opinion, casualisation is one area that has been misinterpreted by employees, employers and some lawyers alike. The practice goes back to the time of forced labour and revolved under different labour eras donning different names until recently when labour activism has been regularised through International Labour Organisations Conventions and the enactment of the Labour Act to deal decisively and exhaustively with labour issues.

In our instance (Zimbabwe) casualisation became more pronounced in the 1990s when the government introduced economic reforms in the form of Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap). It was argued that the country’s labour law was too rigid and could not respond to the demand of economic reforms.

In short, employers were simply saying they needed flexibility in employment relations so that they could hire and fire employees whenever necessary in response to market demands. On the other hand, trade unions cried foul because such flexibility resulted in the loss of jobs and many would leave empty handed. No wonder why trade unionism became so popular in the early 1990s. Since then, the problem continued and intensified but somehow seemed to go unnoticed. Sadly, it appeared in the form of unfair labour practice cases reported at the Labour Court and other offices mandated to handle labour cases.

This issue of casualisation of labour is prevalent across the world. Available records have shown that, “… within the shortest space of time, employers of labour are increasingly filling positions in their organisations that are supposed to be permanent with casual employees,” according to the European Journal of Social Sciences – Volume 22, Number 4 (2011). The reason for this has been largely attributed to the increasing desperation on the side of employers to cut down on organisational costs. As such, they have considered casualisation of employment as the appropriate strategy for cost reduction.

Viewing this from the periphery it seems to be a justifiable point since reduced cost means higher profit which is the ultimate goal of every organisation. However, in the ultimate end it presents lots of challenges for the employees and organisations alike which employers may be ignorant of or possibly have neglected.

This life saving practice continued and gradually started to become popular, as employers may have started to perceive such as a very cheap means of getting work done. Today, this form of employment relationship has become the in thing in Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs), construction firms, hospitality industry, farms, mining companies and factories and has surreptitiously permeated into big organisations like banks, telecoms companies, parastatals and others.

The argument here is that casualisation presents lots of negative effects which is multi-faceted and hence does not and should not be perceived as having negative effects on the employees alone but in a broader and indirect sense it also has grave effects on the employer on the one hand and the national economy on the other hand. Furthermore, the cost cutting strategy resorted by organisations has also meant an increase in casualised and subcontracted employment. It has led to the disparity in the conditions of work for permanent, casual and subcontracted workers, causing a great deal of unhealthy relationships.

For example, in wages and conditions of employment, the situation has opened up division on the shop floor between workers in different categories and affects the ways workers view themselves in their workplace. In line with this, Bodibe (2007) noted that casual workers feel detached from their jobs and at the same time full time workers have lost enthusiasm for improving their lot. Within this scenario all workers are struggling with uncertainty and rather than unite against the employers they see each other as rivals.

The situation that exists is that permanent workers feel that casual workers are threatening their jobs whereas casual workers feel that permanent workers are not sympathetic to their situation. More often this causes a lot of industrial disharmony and disunity amongst employees.

I noted that many organisations ended up casualising labour as a means to avoid costs associated with terminating a permanent contract of employment or paying retrenchment packages. What employers need to understand is what the Labour Act explicitly state about casual work under Section 12 (3) of the Labour Act Chapter 28:01, which defines casual work as work for which an employee is engaged by an employer for not more than a total of six weeks in any four consecutive months.

This means any employee employed for a period longer than six weeks in four months becomes a permanent employee. However, employers evaded this provision and made employees sign weekly or monthly contracts calling them fixed term contracts.

As a result, employees have been casuals for periods ranging from six months to 20 years. On termination, these employees go without any benefit.
Nhamo Kwaramba, is the principal executive consultant for Capacity Consultancy Group. He is also a motivation and business leadership analyst

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