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Employers must study the fine print
RAEL SOLOMON of The Labour Consultancy looks at the impact of labour legislation on the working environment
Cosatu and other employee bargaining councils and forums are irritated with the checks and balances imposed on them by the Act. The legislation which they assumed would help them with their demands is now being used to channel their actions along the required procedural lines.
Publication of the draft Bill had Cosatu up in arms over what it perceived as "employer friendly" working conditions - Cosatu wants a 40-hour working week, six months' paid maternity leave and no variation of the minimum conditions of the Bill.
Cosatu's first attempt to strike for its demands at the beginning of May was met with an interdict obtained by Business SA on the grounds that Cosatu had not followed the correct procedures. Three weeks later Cosatu had 2-million workers out on strike and it is now threatening longer strikes and rolling mass action. Productivity does not even receive a mention.
In another procedural setback to labour's demands, the bus drivers' unions were recently told by the Industrial Court that they could not strike for better wage conditions as they are defined as an essential service in terms of the Act. The unions have been instructed to participate in an arbitration by the CCMA to settle their wage dispute.
It is not only the trade unions that are feeling the bite of the new labour legislation. Many employers are finding themselves pushed into acceding to what are often unwarranted demands from employees who are referring their disputes to the CCMA for mediation and arbitration.
More than 170 cases a day are referred, the majority for claimed unfair dismissal.
Some employers are agreeing to what are often frivolous employee demands, rather that getting involved in a time-consuming process of negotiation. At the heart of many of the cases being referred is the fact that employers do not follow the Act's procedural requirements.
Probationary periods and fixed-time contracts for temporary workers have developed into nightmares for employers. The old contracts where it was stated that either party could terminate an agreement with 24 hours notice by either party are no longer valid. In fact, in terms of the Act, those clauses of existing employment contracts, written or verbal, which are not in terms of the Act are not valid. Casuals, domestics and temporary workers are now all protected by the Act.
In a recent case arbitrated by the CCMA, a "once-a-week" domestic worker who had worked for eight weeks was awarded 52 weeks' remuneration as compensation by the CCMA for unfair dismissal.
The legislation is in place. Employers and employees alike had better aquaint themselves with the procedures and implications. ý The Labour Consultancy offers a daily interactive labour service, Labour Guides, on Business Times' web site. Labour Guides can be found at www.btimes.co.za.