Labour relations in the work place

Labour relations in the work place


When the words “I’m going to the CCMA” come up, employers often panic and give in to demands.  Or you may be in the situation where your staff don’t come to work because they are striking, and you are left to deal with irate clients and a potential drop in company income.

Unless you know the facts, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage the rights of your employees, as well as your own.  The Labour Relations Act is well over 200 pages long and finding the answers can be tricky.  We have simplified the legal jargon for you and, in a nutshell, these are the most important things you need to know.


Without a written contract, labour laws do not apply.  This needs to include details such as expected hours of work, remuneration, and length of employment.  It also needs to state the duties that the employee is expected to perform within the organisation.


There can be no unfair discrimination based on any of the following: race, colour, gender, religion, political opinion, sexual orientation, age, disability, language, HIV diagnosis, marital status or whether or not the person intends of having a family (or already does). If this crosses over into harassment there are implicit legal ramifications.  However, the employee only has 6 months to act on their accusation before it is null and avoid.


There are also certain basic rights that each employee is entitled to if they are low-income earners, which according to the Employment Act, is anything less than R193 805 per annum, at the time of publishing this article.


The basic rights are to:

  • Earn no less than the minimum wage (profession-specific)
  • Work a maximum of 45 hours per week (unless you earn more than R205 433.30 – yes that exact amount – per year, are a person in a senior management position, or if you need to travel for work).
  • Earn overtime at one and a half times the normal wage; Sundays and public holidays are double (unless they are stated in the work contract)
  • One hour meal interval for every 5 hours of work
  • At least 36 consecutive hours off in a week
  • 6 weeks sick leave over a 3-year period
  • Family responsibility leave – if an employee has been working for more than 4 months he is entitled to 3 days off, such as for the death of a family member. However, this does not include the death of a pet, a second cousin, or a friend gravely sick in hospital.

In the case of retrenchments, employees are entitled to one week’s pay for every year worked.


A pregnant employee is entitled to four months maternity leave.  This does NOT have to be paid leave, however.  The mother can apply for Unemployment Insurance Fund benefits for half the time spent away (those niggly UIF payments serve a purpose).  Usually the employer will pay the other half, but this isn’t a basic right and they are not obliged to do so.


Of course, like the Google offices, employers can always offer above and beyond the basics.  You can throw in things like thirteenth cheques, performance awards, annual increases, leaving early on Fridays, and so on.


Still, no matter how happy you may try to make everyone, there will be disputes.  It is important to know your rights, and those of your employees.  For instance, you can suspend an employee, but they are still entitled to remuneration during this time.  When there is a strike (collective bargaining), workers can be “locked out” and refused access to the workplace, and is basically the employer “striking” back.  If this is a lawful lock out (read the Labour Relations Act 1995 with a fine-tooth comb) the employer doesn’t need to pay those employees their wages.  One person cannot strike on their own.


Although no employer can unfairly discriminate, only certain employers need to adhere to specific BEE requirements and percentages.  These are organisations with more than 50 staff members or an annual turnover of R2 million.  Once again, as with striking, there is no individual right to affirmative action.


Notice periods for resignation range from 24 hours to two months, depending on length of time at the organisation and what the contract states.  Sometimes staff members don’t leave by choice, however. Although there are clear criteria for when an employee can be dismissed (i.e. fired), if this is done unfairly, compensation can be up to 24 months’ salary.  Be sure to dot your i’s and cross your t’s when it comes to strikes, pregnancy, illness, or disability.  As an employer, however, you can draw a hard line when it comes to theft, assault, persistent drunkenness, or repeated absences.


Fortunately, keeping your staff happy isn’t as difficult as it sounds.  Free coffee and tea goes a long way!


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