Wednesday, August 10, 2022
Herbert Smith Freehills

False and Discriminatory Learnership Advert

The right to fair labour practice is enshrined and nothing can dominate this right – or at least, nothing is supposed to!

International law firm Herbert Smith Freehills placed a fake advert for a learnership touted by them as a fantastic opportunity.  A  learnership in the legal sector is very unusual, these interventions typically target marginalized youth and the unemployed to absorb them in economic sectors where there are skills shortages or barriers to entry. 

Not only was the learnership falsely advertised, but the HSF Legal was not transparent about pay.

Herbert Smith Freehills refuses to account for their conduct and apologise to South Africa.

Herbert Smith Freehills Responds

Job Advert Pay Transparency

Many employers appear to trivialize worker rights during the process of recruitment claiming powers they are not legally entitled to.

Obstructing the fair flow of wage information to job applicants is potentially discriminatory, signalling an iniquitous pathway to employment at this firm.

Advertisements containing company benefits, list salary description and advertise more than one position received a larger applicant pool than advertisements lacking these contents.

Kaplan, Aamodt and Wilk : 1991

Call for secrecy banning in the UK

Young Women’s Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton OBE said secrecy must be banned:

“We have to break the cycle that traps women in low pay.

Women often start work on a lower salary than men, move to a new job and are paid based on their previous wage, as opposed to what they or the role are worth – so they continue to be paid less.

Ending this practice is crucial to ending the gender pay gap.
“Our research shows that women are more likely to disregard jobs if they feel their skills don’t match up to them, compared to men who often apply anyway.
Including salary details in job adverts would help women to see that jobs are in fact at their level and give them an idea of where they should be negotiating from to progress their pay.”

Employer Power is Called Monopsony

When an employer tries to control worker wages, they place their profit interests ahead of worker right to pursue competitive,not price-fixed wages.

An employer is not entitled to apply wage discrimination even if it means they get to improve profits. Profit cannot be at workers expense – that would be unfair labor practice.

Besides, the Competition Act states that workers, owners and consumers have equal rights in the economy and that their interests must be balanced.

Unfair Information Advantages

Withholding information about pay is an abuse of power.

Income inequality patterns are dominated by racist and sexist outcomes suggesting firms use payslips to spy on rival firm reward systems, to price-fix pay and poach employees.

When job applicants apply for jobs without knowing how much they will be paid, they become vulnerable to race and gender based wage discrimination.

Fake Professionalism at HSF

Lernerships are registered with the Department of Labour and result in the awarding of an occupational qualification. Learnerships are predominantly at NQF levels 3, 4 and 5

A law learnership is somewhat of an oddity and attracted our attention immediately.

Herbert Smith Freehills ignorant of local laws

A foreign firm, they no doubt heard how black graduates can be suckered when forced to enter the labour market via a learnership, even if qualified.

But HSF apparently failed to research our local regulations and even failed to get an understanding of the definition for ‘learnerships.’

When confronted, HSF swiftly removed the advert and ignored the demand for a public apology. Their website claims they are human rights experts, no doubt this expertise is compromised in favour of human busting neo liberalism.

Herbert Smith Freehills has a dim view of pay transparency, even when targeting a ‘development’ market. Clearly they lack informed policy and conviction.

When a recruiter and job applicant negotiate wages, the person with the most information about pay has the advantage. If one party involved in a negotiation has more information than the other, lawyers and economists refer to the difference as information asymmetry.

False Legal Learnership Advertised

HSF claimed to be advertising a Law Learnership yet they had no accredited provider number neither did the advert state the specific qualification candidates would acquire as a result of the experience.

They never provided the information, it appears they were trying to dupe the public into believing it was an authentic development intervention.

Learnerships can be poverty traps for gullible new market entrants.Pay is dangerously low, while expectations extremely high.

If you’re a black youth, you’ll struggle to enter the professional labour force directly, even if qualified. You’ll likely be channeled into  learnerships so firms can gain BEE points, tax rebates and cheap labour.

Lawyers Practicing Information Asymmetry

HSF often adopts information asymmetry when recruiting. Clearly, they never read South Africa’s Constitution, as a result, they didn’t see the bits about fair labour practice and dignity.

It would be interesting to know why they placed a fake learnership advert.

It would also be interesting to know why they weren’t transparent about pay, given how important money is.

Forward emails requesting pay history and pay expectation information from job advertisers who are secretive about pay during recruitment.

Screenshot job adverts that are vague about pay or that don’t even mention it and send to

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