Please note that this pertains to South African Labour Relations and Best Practice
Here in South Africa, we have an electricity problem – we know it, the staff know it, the government knows it! It is no longer a secret.
Whilst Eskom has stated that there will be no more ‘load shedding’, and most people sighed and thought ‘well it’s over now’, the fact of the matter is that it’s not over. What will happen now, is that instead of planned load shedding, we will have to contend with whatever happens when the power stations just ‘fall’ over! It will be pretty much the same as ‘load shedding’ only we will not know when to expect it!
Our protagonist’s, Mike who owns the business and George who works for him, also feature in this story. You see Mike is a small business owner, who has not been in business for very long. He has to count each and every cent, twice – in order to ensure that he is getting the best possible value for money and that he keeps his expenses and overheads as low as possible in order for him to maintain the margins that he is working on, and still give his clients the best possible service and also value for money.
It can be no surprise that the ‘load shedding’ and soon to be power outages will have a huge impact on Mike’s business. To make matters worse and kind of ‘in his face’ Mike has to watch his staff, like George – sitting doing absolutely nothing for hours on end when there is no electricity! That has really got to stick in a man’s throat.
Mike thought long and hard about the problem, and decided that he would change George’s (and in fact all the staff member’s) conditions of employment in such a way that the staff would not be paid for the periods of the power outages. So actually what Mike wanted to do was change the number of hours that his staff worked (to shorter hours for the days that there was load shedding) and then obviously pay them less.
Fortunately Mike, in his old age – has learnt to ask questions first and then act! If Mike had just unilaterally just changed the Conditions of Employment, he would have been in breach of contract and that means that Mike could have gotten himself into a huge amount of trouble with the Department of Labour and it could have cost him a great deal of money!
The rule is this, as an employer, Mike cannot just change any employee’s employment conditions. Mike would firstly have to have a consultation or discussion with the employee and if an agreement to the change was agreed upon by BOTH parties, the change could then take place – it is however, very definitely a negotiation process. If Mike and George could not come to some sort of mutual agreement, the only road then open to Mike would be for him to then retrench George. Mike would have to remember, of course, that he would not be able to employ anyone else in George’s position for at least 6 months!