The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has already had serious implications, either directly or indirectly, for many South Africans as well as the negative economic impact on the country at large. Short time is an option for employers to consider when they are concerned about staying operationally viable during this declared disaster, especially with regards to loss of income and the employer’s obligation towards employees.
Reasons to implement short time
When an employer is unable to employ his employees for the ordinary hours of work per week due to a slackness of trade, shortage of raw materials, a general breakdown of plant or machinery caused by an accident or any other unforeseen emergency, the employer may implement short time during this period (subject to following the correct procedure).
Short time – is COVID-19 a justifiable reason?
With regards to the COVID-19 pandemic as an unforeseen emergency, the employer can therefore implement short time when the normal work volume has decreased drastically, but certain activities still need to take place. Employees will then work fewer hours and be compensated accordingly for hours worked, subject to a payment of a minimum of four hours in terms of Section 9A of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. When short time is worked, the work available must be evenly distributed among all employees as far as possible.
Working hours form part of the employment contract and the employer cannot make any changes unilaterally. So in order to implement short time, there must be an agreement in place between the employer and employee where the employee has given permission and consent to do so. We advise employers to be proactive and include a short time clause in the employment contract, as conditions that lead to the implementation of short time are often unforeseen – this can save the employer a lot of time and money!
No short time agreement in place?
If there is no prior agreement in place to implement short time, the parties must consult about the change in working hours. The consultation process is very important and the employer must be sure to consult with all parties involved. This means that if there is a trade union in the workplace, they must be included in the consultation process.
Discuss the following:
When agreeing to the implementation of short time, the following must be discussed:
- When will short time be implemented;
- How long will short time be implemented;
- How many employees will be affected/which divisions will be affected;
- What form of short time will be implemented (for example, will there be a reduction in working hours, or will there be a reduction in the number of days an employee works per week).
What about UIF?
Employees are entitled to claim benefits from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) for the difference in remuneration normally received and the remuneration received for the lesser working hours. The UIF benefit will be determined on a sliding scale.
What is the advantage?
One of the advantages of short time, is that no dismissals take place and employees can return to working their normal working hours as soon as the employer’s circumstances stabilise and are successfully resolved, ending the short time period.
Take note that every workplace differs and the employer’s unique circumstances will determine the right solution to be considered. It is critical that employers follow the correct procedure in terms of labour law, as non-compliance holds a serious business risk for employers.
The Department of Labour requires employers to keep a detailed logbook of the hours worked by employees. The recording of these hours can be done manually or electronically by using a clocking system.
Not yet an LWO member?
Become a member today and make your life as an employer easier. Labour law sets strict requirements that employers must comply with – and that is exactly what the LWO does: we assist employers to comply with labour law and to protect their businesses and their rights as employers. Read about membership benefits here.