Focus shifts to rights and responsibilities ahead of Workers’ Month

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Pretoria – Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant intends to use the upcoming Workers’ Month to raise awareness levels amongst workers in South Africa about their rights and responsibilities. 

May marks Workers’ Month, with 1 May officially signalling the start of various campaigns and initiatives to get workers and employers alike more acquainted with the legislation that governs their conduct in the workplace. 

In a media briefing on Tuesday in Pretoria, Minister Oliphant said there is a growing appreciation of the large number of workers who do not know their rights and responsibilities. This, the Minister said, is what influenced their focus for the month.

“[There is a] realisation that in most instances, workers do not fully grasp and leverage the key historic milestones in the various pieces of our labour laws,” Minister Oliphant said.

The Minister said South Africa has sound legislation in place. “Our labour laws tick all the right boxes on all fronts and these call for celebration by none other than the workers themselves.”

Minister Oliphant said legislation such as the Labour Relations Act (LRA) makes it much easier for unions to obtain rights within organisations.

“Commissioners can give majority rights to sufficiently represented unions, who do not have majority representation. In the past, you had to have 50% + 1 union representivity to qualify for majority rights, such as the right to union representatives and access to information.

“Now, even if there isn’t 50% +1 representivity, a commissioner can award majority rights to a union that is at least sufficiently represented, where no other union in that workplace already has majority rights.”

Dismissals, contracts in the workplace

Minister Oliphant moved to explain the changes made in the labour environment, including the definition of dismissal and permanent contracts.

“The definition of dismissal has changed. In terms of Section 186 [of the Labour Relations Act], a dismissal is no longer just limited to the termination of a contract of employment by an employer, but termination of any employment.

“This means that where an employee is stationed with the client of a labour broker and the client decides to terminate employment, the employee can refer the client to the CCMA [Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration], irrespective of the contract with the labour broker, due to the fact that the employment relationship is between the employee and the client.”

Minister Oliphant said failure to offer permanent employment once a fixed-term contract has lapsed can be seen as unfair dismissal, where the employer cannot justify why no such permanent appointment can be made.

“Any dismissals will be automatically ‘unfair’ if the reason for the dismissal is that the employee refused to accept a demand in respect of any matter of mutual interest between them and their employer. Such changes are now left solely to the ambit of collective bargaining.

“Where an employee is not required to work their notice period and the employer opts to pay out the notice period, the date of dismissal is the day when the notice expires or the day the employee receives final payment, whichever comes first,” the Minister said.

According to the Department of Labour, 22 years ago, South African workers were subjected to the most brutal labour laws. Domestic and farm workers were not defined as workers and enjoyed no protection from the labour laws of the time, let alone having any benefits. Workers were paid slave wages and could be dismissed without any recourse. –

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