Making labour law work for you
26 Feb 2021
Unpacking the Labour Relations Act
Now that we enjoy living in a democracy, the law is designed to make sure that workers have rights and are treated equally. We call the different laws that deal with work, labour laws. The key law for the workplace is the Labour Relations Act (LRA). The purpose of the act is to ensure economic development, in the interest of society, democracy and peace.
Does this law apply to me?
The law applies to all workers, employers, trade unions and organisations for employers.
However it does not apply to you if you are a member of the National Defence Force, the National Intelligence Agency or the SA Secret Service.
What rights are protected?
Rights that this law protects include:
The right to form and join trade unions if you are a worker. The right to join employers’ organisations, if you are the owner or boss. The law also focuses on helping build fair relationships between workers and bosses.
The right to organise and bargain collectively. This can be within a company or a sector. Sectoral collective bargaining means that workers, who are doing similar work, have the right to be together when negotiating and discussing with employers about what pay and job benefits they want.
The right to strike and the process and rules you must follow to make sure that the strike is legal. In particular, a new change to the law helps to stop strikes from going on for too long or becoming too violent.
The rights of employers to lock out workers. However the rules for when they can do this are very strict in order to protect the rights of the workers.
Dealing with disputes
The law also sets out a guideline of how to deal with disputes (disagreements) between an employee and employer in a fair way. This law sets up various institutions to help settle these disputes.
What organisations protect workers?
The Labour Relations Act is the law that protects employers and employees through the following institutions:
- The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA)
- The section at the Bargaining Councils that helps solve disputes
- The Labour Court
- The Labour Appeal Court
How does this law protect these rights?
Here are ten key ways in which the Labour Relations Act protects your rights as a worker:
- Workers are allowed to join and take part in all legal trade union activities without the fear of being fired or victimised for this.
- Workers have the right to refuse (say no) to doing the work of striking colleagues (fellow workers) if the request is unreasonable.
- Workers have the right to a disciplinary hearing, even if their boss has accused them of taking part in an unprotected (illegal strike.) A disciplinary hearing is when both the worker and boss can explain to a neutral party (a chairperson – who cannot take sides) about the dispute between them. The chairperson will then consider all the facts and reach a final decision about who is right and who is wrong.
- Workers have the right to motivate (give reasons) as to why they want to bring an external representative (someone to support them) to a disciplinary hearing. This could include a person like a lawyer or a trade union or bargaining council representative.
- The law makes sure that workers cannot be fired under unfair conditions. Depending on the specific details, this can include when someone else takes over the business. The law also rules that people cannot be fired for pregnancy or other forms of discrimination such as their race, gender, religion or language.
- You can be employed on a fixed-term contract of three to six months, or longer if the specific project you are working on requires. However, you have the right to request a permanent position rather than a contract extension if you have a reasonable (realistic) expectation that your position would continue in the long-term.
- Even if an employer believes that the worker absconded (left the employment without resigning), the employer cannot replace the worker before following a very strict process.
- If a worker accuses their boss of unfair dismissal at the CCMA or a Bargaining Council, they need to prove that they have been fired. Once the worker has proven this, then the boss is assumed (considered) guilty of unfair dismissal until he or she proves themselves to be innocent.
- The CCMA also has the power to make an employer overturn (reverse) their decision to fire or discipline a worker. The employer can be forced to do this.
- The law also makes sure that when an employer wants to fire or discipline a worker, they have to follow a very fair and strict process, before they can do so.
What are the other laws which help me as a worker?
The Labour Relations Act (LRA) is supported by a number of other laws:
- The Basic Conditions of Employment Act details your day-to-day conditions at work, such as your rights around hours, leave and pay.
- The Occupational Health and Safety Act ensures that you are not placed in danger in your job.
- The Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act makes sure that you are given help and payments if you are hurt at work and it is the fault of the employer.
- There are also laws around Skills Development as well as Employment Equity.
- The Unemployment Insurance Act is meant to offer support if you lose your job or stop working for some reason.
How can Legal&Tax help you?
If some of the labour issues mentioned here relate to you and problems you might be having in the workplace, remember that Legal&Tax is your lifelong companion in ensuring your rights are protected. We can advise you on what labour rights you have and what legal steps you can take to protect yourself at work.
Article sourced from Legal&Tax.
- Review applications in terms of section 145 of the Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995
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