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Novel contract puts workers in the picture

Farmworkers in Limpopo are having their contracts of employment drawn out in comic form so that they can understand them.

These world-first "comic contracts" were created by Cape Town attorney Robert du Rooy, who said the idea was borne out of frustration over how traditional contracts were being drafted, along with a desire to make a "positive contribution" to employer-employee relationships.

The contracts use pictures to explain working terms of conditions to employees, and 300 fruit-pickers at Indigo Fruit Growers have signed the agreement. Most of the workers cannot read or write.

Du Rooy believes that traditional text agreements have too many contradictions and are ambiguous.

"Comic contracts are much more transparent, so an employer can't hide oppressive terms," Du Rooy said. "This will motivate more equitable agreements.

"The way in which most contracts are drafted and presented does not support a good relationship. Most employees don't read it, or would they be able to understand it if they tried."

Labour lawyer Michael Bagraim said that while the idea was innovative, it failed as a legitimate legal document in its current form.

"Contracts of employment are very particular documents and it has to be in writing," said Bagraim.

"The particulars have to be controlled as in section 29 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.

"The pictures are helpful, but it does not detract from the fact that the employee has to understand the writing and agree to it.

"The pictures can accompany the words but they cannot replace them. Alone the pictures are subjective and could be open to abuse," the lawyer said.

The contracts were explained to employees by Indigo compliance administrator Kate Hlongo, who said she received nothing but positive feedback from the workers.

Hlongo said: "Everyone loved the new contracts and no one found them condescending. The pictures are clear and easy to understand.

"When people sign they remember and know what they have signed because the pictures explain it to them. Before we would have to go line by line to try to explain and people would still not fully understand."

Du Rooy wants to create more comic contracts, with his next idea a contract for domestic workers.

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