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Know your rights in the workplace

Written by Editor

March 20, 2023

By Jessie Taylor

Human Rights Month is commemorated in March to remind South Africans about the sacrifices that accompanied the struggle for democracy. It serves as a reminder of the rights that are enshrined in South Africa’s Constitution.

Every person in the country is able to enjoy these human rights and there are various pieces of legislation that protect them, whether it is in the public domain or in the workplace. Worker rights are the cornerstone of a fair, just and prosperous society as they ensure that employees have access to safe working conditions, and the opportunity to build an economically-resilient society.

 What legislation protects your labour rights?

South Africa has a past in which workers were often exploited. From early settlers relying on slave labour, to the workers being subjected to the migrant labour system, passes and influx control, job reservation, poverty wages and apartheid oppressive laws. This is why their rights are not protected by several pieces of legislation.

The Constitution ensures that every employee has the right:

  • Not to be unfairly dismissed
  • To be treated with dignity and respect 
  • To be paid the agreed wage on the agreed date and at the agreed time 
  • To be provided with appropriate resources and equipment to enable him/her to do the job 
  • To have safe working conditions 
  • To fair labour practices 
  • To non-victimisation in claiming rights and using procedures 
  • To all the protection and benefits of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. 

 

This article was first published in the 25th edition of Public Sector Magazine. Read it here: 

However, there are also two key pieces of legislation that expand on these basic rights: The Labour Relations Act and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA). These two acts provide minimum standards for employment and seek to protect vulnerable workers.

The legislation allows employees to refuse to comply with an instruction or conditions of employment that is contrary to the BCEA. The BCEA limits the hours that may be worked in a week and regulates meal breaks and rest periods. The Act also sets entitlement to annual leave, sick leave, maternity leave and family-responsibility leave. It explains what workers can expect if their employment is terminated.

This legislation prohibits forced labour and the employment of children under 15 years old.

The Labour Relations Act intends to bring labour law into conformity with the Constitution and with international law. It recognises and regulates the rights of workers to organise and join trade unions, and the right to strike, as well as prevent unfair dismissals and discrimination.

The Act also established a number of important bodies, such as the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration – which creates simple procedures for the arbitration and resolution of labour conflict – and the Labour Court and Labour Appeals Court, which adjudicate disputes.

These are the rights you are entitled to as an employee:

  • The right to a fair wage

The South African government has set a national minimum wage, which sets a baseline for earnings across all sectors. An increase to the minimum wage is effective from 1 March 2023 and will move it from R23,19 per hour to R25,42 per hour (an increase of almost 10%). The minimum rate for farm workers and domestic workers is on par with the national minimum wage. 

  • The right to fair labour practices 

For most employees, legislation states the maximum normal working time allowed is nine hours per day (excluding lunch break) if the employee works a five-day week. Employees are not obligated to work more than 45 hours per week. If a worker clocks for more than 45 hours per week, they are entitled to claim overtime compensation.

In addition to fair compensation, workers are entitled to a minimum of 21 consecutive days or 15 working days’ annual leave on full pay. Annual leave is accumulative, meaning for every 17 days worked, one day of leave is granted. In every 36-month cycle, employees are entitled to the number of sick days equal to the number of days they would normally work six weeks. 

  • The right to not be discriminated against

The Constitution states that no person may unfairly discriminate, directly or indirectly, against an employee in any employment policy or practice. This includes job applicants and former employees.

  • The right to safe working conditions 

Employees have the right to safe working conditions, which is prescribed in the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). Some of the rights include proper toilets, first aid, drinking water, changing facilities, protective clothing, ventilation, lighting and temperature. Workers are also entitled to compensation should they be injured, killed or become ill due to a workplace accident or work-related disease. 

  • The right to organise

The Constitution gives every worker the right to participate in trade unions and to strike. Every employee has the right to make a complaint to a trade union representative, and every trade union representative has the right, at the request of an employee, to inspect any record that relates to the worker’s employment.

The legislation also allows trade unions to determine their own administration, programmes and activities; to organise; and to form and join a federation. They also have the right to engage in collective bargaining.

 

Sources: Concourt | Gov.za | Labourguide| IRS 

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