Short time and loadshedding
by Anneline Scriven
In the current economic climate, many employers are concerned about staying operationally viable. Consequently, various reasons can compel an employer to implement short time. What is important though, is that the employer’s reason is valid, and the correct procedure is followed. Short time is not regulated in terms of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), which means that the employer and employee should come to an agreement. We advise employers to be proactive and include a short time clause in the employment contract, as conditions that lead to implementing short time are often unforeseen – this can save the employer a lot of time and money.
During short time employees will 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 BCEA. When short time is worked, the work available must be evenly distributed among all employees as far as possible.
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Circumstances to consider
The employer can implement short time during instances that are out of his or her control when production cannot continue – e.g. continued power failures such as loadshedding, weather conditions that negatively affect the day-to-day operations of the business, 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 can also implement short time as an alternative to retrenchment.
Follow the correct procedure
Working hours form part of the employment contract’s terms and conditions and the employer cannot make any changes unilaterally. This will constitute unfair labour practices and the employee can then refer a dispute to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration. So, in order to implement short time, there must be an agreement in place between the employer and employee where the employee has given written permission and consent to do so. If there is no prior agreement in place between the employer and employee with regards to implementing 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 involved in the workplace, they must be included in the consultation process.
When implementing short time, make sure to discuss the following:
- The reason for implementing short time;
- When will short time be implemented;
- For 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);
- How will the employee’s remuneration be adjusted.
Short time should not be implemented indefinitely but rather for a short period whereafter the employer’s position is re-evaluated. 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.
If short time was implemented as an alternative to retrenchment and after the re-evaluation the employer’s position did not change, the employer may need to consider retrenchment subject to following the correct procedure.
The Department of Employment and 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.
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