It is crucial to remember that no employee may be required to make any payment associated with the recruitment process or commencement of work. Recruitment and associated costs must be paid for by the employer, meaning there should be no fees levied to the worker for this process, including returnable deposits. In cases where this practice is picked up during an audit, the business will receive a finding that can escalate to a severe high-risk finding. The monitoring and awareness of these practices within the business are essential, and all employers have a duty to ensure that this does not occur within their business. Employers will be jointly liable with the perpetrator as the practice is not acceptable. The Basic Conditions of Employment Act, Section 48, prohibits forced labour in any form, and no one may, for their own benefit or to benefit someone else, cause, demand, or impose forced labour.
When employees request financial assistance from management, it must be documented and clearly demonstrate that the transaction was voluntary on the part of the employee. If any “benefits” are provided to the worker at a cost, for example, transport, advance payment to purchase food, bedding and so on, then these must be voluntary, and there must be evidence that the worker has requested these items. Remember that an “advance” could be interpreted as a form of bonded labour unless clear evidence shows that this was done at the employee’s request. Wherever advances are made which are intended to be paid back, there must be written proof from the worker of their consent. Due to the precariousness of loans, the business should only consider loans in exceptional cases. The loan system should clearly stipulate the loan conditions. Interest cannot be charged on loans if the employer is not registered as a credit provider and cannot comply with the National Credit Act 34 of 2005. Deductions, of whatever nature, must:
- be clearly documented;
- be specific – i.e., not a general authorisation for any deductions to be made;
- indicate the nature and amount of the loan/advance;
- indicate repayment terms/amounts to be deducted;
- no interest may be payable by the worker;
- be signed by the workers themselves.
Repayment terms shall conform to national legislation and ILO conventions governing deductions from wages for repayment of loans. Management may not permit or encourage employees to incur debt through recruitment fees, fines, or any other means.
For more information on the requirements around forced and bonded labour, feel free to view the SIZA Social Standard: https://siza.co.za/standard/social-standard/